All season long, Charlie Manuel — known as a “player’s manager” — stuck his head in the sand and ignored the struggles of Brad Lidge. For five and a half months, he did this. For five and a half months, the Phillies didn’t pay any mind to their post-season chances. With two weeks left in the season, the finish line in sight, and a lack of any kind of improvement on the part of Lidge, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro switched horses mid-stream.
When Amaro delivered the news that Lidge would no longer be closing out games for the Phillies, he did not specify who would be taking over the role. From FOXSports.com:
“At some point, we’re going to have to juggle, be creative, figure out who that person is — whether it’s by matchups, closer-by-committee, whatever it takes.”
But, come on, it’s Madson, right? Park has been injured, Myers recently came off of the DL and is still fighting his way to full-strength — who’s it going to be? J.A. Happ? Nope. Durbin, Condrey, Walker? No, no, no. So, although Amaro never named a closer, he may as well have — Madson was the only logical option.
Of course, Mad Dog also has the closer traits that we all identify with. The 95-MPH fastball, the ridiculous off-speed stuff (for Lidge it was his slider; for Madson, it’s his change-up), the odd delivery. He has closer written all over him. And he has, you know, actually been a great reliever for the past three seasons.
So tonight, in a game the Phillies should have been able to, and did win, Manuel used Madson in the eighth inning with a three-run lead. Lidge, Durbin, Walker, et. al. sat in the bullpen and watched him shut down the Astros 1-2-3 in the eighth.
Should have saved him for the ninth, Charlie.
Madson took the mound again for the start of the ninth to face the top of the Astros lineup: Matsui, Tejada, Berkman, Lee, and Pence, one through five. The worriers thought about his supposed ninth-inning struggles — the .778 OPS hitters have notched in the ninth against him as opposed to the .662 OPS in the eighth inning. But, of course, we’re dealing with that small sample size where anything can happen.
As if to make sure none of us were breathing easy, Madson allowed singles to two of the first three hitters. With runners on first and second and just one out with the tying run coming to the plate in the form of Carlos Lee (who had gone yard earlier in the game against J.A. Happ), a pow-wow was held at the pitcher’s mound. He had thrown at least one breaking ball in each at-bat in the ninth thus far.
After the mound visit? Nothing but heat. Madson threw four fastballs in the strike zone to Lee, getting him to swing and miss for strike three. With one out left and Hunter Pence at the plate, Madson stuck to his heat, quickly getting ahead in the count 0-2. After a 96 MPH fastball taken for a ball, Madson froze Pence with a 97 MPH fastball for strike three. Game over.
Ryan Madson is your new closer. Get used to it and enjoy the ride, however long it lasts.
Only twice before this season had Madson been used for two inning relief appearances. With the Phillies having played lackadaisically recently and the Braves playing their best baseball all year, Manuel decided to stop toying around with the NL East division lead. He went to the best reliever he had and asked him to get not just three, but six very important outs. Charlie Manuel adapted.
That’s all we ask for.