They are the saviors of the close game. Entering in the ninth inning as the crowd cheers upon their appearance, as if they were rock stars.
And they have just one job: to close the game.
How sweet it is for Phillies fans these days, scoring perhaps the best free agent closer during the off-season in Brad Lidge. Philadelphia’s Lidge finished the 2008 season perfectly, going 41 for 41 in save attempts.
Things weren’t so bright however, the last time the Phillies made a lengthy post-season appearance.
Lets go back in time to 1993, when Curt Schilling was still in Philly red, John Kruk owned the rights to first base and night after night, a man by the name of Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams took the mound for a save in the ninth.
The Toronto Blue Jays were the opponent that year for the World Series. The Phillies, down two games to one, turned to Williams in the eighth inning of game four. Williams let up six runs and took the loss.
Numerous Philly fans gave Williams death threats that night for blowing a seven-run lead. Little did they know, the worst was yet to come.
After a Schilling win in game five, followed by a five-run blast in the seventh inning of game six, Wild Thing took the mound to try and force a game seven.
We all know the story from here. Two outs and two on base, Williams gave up a homerun to Blue Jay’s Joe Carter, and the rest is history.
Needless to say, there was no “Wild Thing” in Philly in 1994.
I’m not about to say that the Phillies had game seven already in the bag or anything, but with the game being held in Philly and Schilling would have had at least three days rest, I could see a bit of resentment for Williams after his performance.
It makes things even worse when you realize the Phillies haven’t been to a World Series since William’s down and in slider to Carter, 15 years ago.
Despite the past, however, I will stress once again, Lidge is 41 for 41. That is not a stat to be taken lightly.
Since the save became an official statistic in baseball in 1969, only one other closer in history has achieved perfection before.
Of course, I still question the legitimacy in that. Eric Gagne went 55 for 55 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2003. However, after a 20 month steroid test in baseball named the Mitchell report, Gagne had been pointed out as a Human Growth Hormone abuser.
I’ll rest my case on that one.
When the scoreboard rolled over to the ninth inning at Citizens Bank Park, opposing teams knew it was “Lights Out Lidge” time.
He of course pitched some nail biters, including the save that clinched the National League East Division for the Phillies, where he let a run score and allowed another runner prance into scoring position before grounding the batter out with his patented in-the-dirt slider.
The good news however, is that Lidge thus far into the playoffs has remained perfect, recording three saves in as many opportunities.
Though the city of Philadelphia does not have a short memory, Mitch Williams has been forgiven.
He has recently reacquainted with the Phillies organization, as “the closer” during the postgame reaction show.
He was privileged to throw one more pitch in a Phillies uniform, that being the ceremonial first pitch of the NL Division Series.
He is also Brad Lidge’s biggest fan and probably hopes that “Lights Out” can accomplish what the former “Wild Thing” could not.