So when Pedro Feliz gave the Phillies new life with his game-tying eighth-inning home run, and a revitalized Brad Lidge came triumphantly marching onto the field with the score at 4-4, I knew exactly what was going to happen.
Lidge had overcome so much so quickly in 2009. He had seemingly turned around an epically bad season in an instant on September 30 when he faced just one batter in a non-save situation to close out the Phillies’ NL East-clinching game.
Sure, Lidge blew a major-league-high 11 saves and had an ERA of 7.21 in the regular season, but all that was in the past.
He had ripped through the postseason, finishing off all five postseason games he pitched in (1-0, 3 saves) without allowing a single run.
He was feeling so confident, he went back to his old intro music.
The crowd was amped. The town was on fire. The team believed. This one was indeed going to be for the soldiers.
Hideki Matsui and his .571 World Series batting average came to the plate first. Lidge dominated him, getting him to weakly pop up to short.
Next came Derek Jeter, who has been all-everything all playoffs – and especially so in this Classic. Lidge K’d Mr. Nov-tober with dominating stuff. Jeter never had a chance.
All that stood between the Phillies and a ninth-inning date with Phil Hughes was the over-the-hill Johnny Damon. Surely, after dispatching the Yankees’ two best World Series hitters, Lights Out could handle Johnny Damon.
The crowd roared, the anticipation built, the energy spiked and Lidge went after the left fielder. Damon looked like he was struck out a couple of times in the at-bat, but he worked the count full … then fouled off two pitches … and finally stroked a single to left on the ninth pitch he saw.
Johnny bleeping Damon.
And as anyone who has watched Lidge all year knows, once a runner gets on, Lidge has real problems. On the closer’s first pitch to Mark Teixeira, Damon stole second, then alertly took third when he realized no one was covering thanks to the Teixeira shift.
Uh oh… this was starting to feel eerie.
Lidge then plunked Tex.
First and third now, for Alex Rodriguez — the best hitter in baseball — against a pitcher who had the worst single-season ERA for a closer in MLB history.
This time, it was Lidge who never had a chance.
Double. Game over. Series over.
The baseball Gods sure do have a quirky sense of humor.
Adding insult to injury, Posada followed A-Rod’s double with a two-run single, giving the Yankees a 7-4 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead and dashing any realistic chance of Philadelphia winning back-to-back World Series.
The Yankees are the 44th team to take a 3-1 lead in the World Series. Thirty-seven of the previous 43 (86 percent) went on to win the World Championship of Baseball (©Harry Kalas). Twenty-four teams (56 percent) wrapped it up in five.
Boy, irony really sucks. Especially when you can see it coming from miles away.
Brad Lidge had been the Phillies’ Achilles’ heel all season. He thought he had it all figured out in the postseason.
Until he faced the Yankees.
Playoff baseball is designed to expose flaws. You can hide them for a little bit. But eventually, when you’re facing a good team, any weakness your team has is going to surface.
On Saturday night, the Phillies struggling ’08 ace reared his ugly head and cost the team Game 3. On Sunday, it was the closer who battled himself all season that gave Game 4 away.
Lidge and Hamels. Heroes just a year ago suddenly goats. This is exactly why repeat champions are so rare.
The Phils likely won’t get another opportunity this year. This is the World Series. You can’t give away games and expect a parade down Broad Street. It just doesn’t happen that way.
Ask Mitch Williams.
Now, the Phillies find themselves in a seemingly insurmountable hole against what any objective observer has to admit is a more complete team.
The real shame of it is that Philadelphia came out huge for this team tonight.
The day had started off with such promise for the Phaithful when the Eagles stunningly took the Giants to school. Donovan McNabb, Shady McCoy and DeSean Jackson were all-world as the Birds offense racked up 40 points on the once venerable New York defense.
It was supposed to be a good omen. This was supposed to be Philadelphia’s day. The Birds’ win was supposed to be a sign of good things to come for the City of Brotherly Love in the weekend battle with its bitter rival to the north. It had to be.
Hell, Rich Hofmann even wrote a preemptive column about the day, harkening back to October 19, 1980.
It was going to be “the greatest day in Philadelphia sports history.”
The crowd believed. The noise Sunday night dwarfed anything that came out of The Stadium 108 miles north in Games 1 and 2.
But, unfortunately for Philadelphia, this game isn’t played in the stands. It’s played between the white lines.
And at least this week, every time a Phillies player makes a play between the lines, a Yankees player has an answer.
As a fan, I want to believe the Phightins still have a chance. I want to believe Philly can come back from this. I want to believe this seemingly dire situation is no different than the countless times the ’09 Phils bounced back from a particularly deflating regular-season loss.
After all, it’s Cliff Lee in Game 5 … and then if Pedro can just find a way to win Game 6 … who knows what could happen in Game 7?
This team does play all 27 outs. The Phillies have proven that time and time again this year, and they still need to be beaten one more time before the Bronx can celebrate its 27th title.
But when the Phillies fought back all those times in the past … the end had never been so near … they were never down to their last game … and they never had to beat the best team in baseball three games in a row.
The painful part about all of this is that while the Yankees are good, they’re not unbeatable. The Phillies had chances to win Games 2, 3 and 4.
But in the end, the men in the real pinstripes made the plays when the game was on the line.
And as Philadelphia witnessed for itself 369 days ago, that’s the difference between a good team and a champion.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/leerussakoff.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.