Thursday, November 8, 2007

Lights Out is Finally Out

My sister recently married a Massachusetts native. My brother-in-law has been a lifelong and devoted Red Sox fan, and frankly, he's seen a pretty good run lately. I was at home watching the Sox polish off the Rockies a few weeks ago, and had him on the line when Terry Francona made the pitching change in Game 4 from the embattled Hideki Okajima to the practically immortal Jonathan Papelbon.

As soon as Papelbon was unleashed from the bullpen, I said to him: "Congratulations on your second World Series victory in four years."

Watching Papelbon pitch was like watching tag team pro wrestling when I was a kid. No matter how dire of shape the good guy was in, all it took was that tag to change the tide of the match. Papelbon played the role of Shawn Michaels or Ax or Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart perfectly. He'd come storming out of the corner, full-throttle, pistol whipping the opponent until no one was left in the ring. Like Hawk (or Animal), he was the perfect Cooler. The Human Victory Cigar if there ever was one.

While he poured beer on the World Series trophy, I remarked to my sister: "Man, wouldn't it be nice for the Astros to have a great closer again?" Maybe Houston doesn't have a Papelbon in wait right now, but as we go into the offseason of one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory, at least it's nice to have a clean slate.


By all accounts, Brad "Lights Out" Lidge was a good guy, and yes, at one point perhaps the most dominant closer in baseball. He could overpower batters with 97 MPH heat, and break their will with a slider that darted faster than Adrian Peterson in the secondary. In 2004, and most of 2005, my favorite moment of being an Astros fan was watching, or more often, listening to Milo Hamilton orgasmically praise Lidge as he ruthlessly crushed another hapless chump in the 9th inning. Those years the Astros advanced to the NLCS and the World Series respectively.

But Lidge forever changed on That Night. Yes, I know the Astros made the World Series anyway. But That Night completely altered the course of a franchise that seemed on pace to be in baseball's upper-echelon of elites. This was a franchise that won the NL Central in 1997-1999 and 2001. This was a franchise with one of the leagues most dominant, and likeable, superstars in Lance Berkman. This was a franchise with two of baseball's best veterans, Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, heading into the twilight of their Cooperstown-bound careers.

But as Albert Pujols, who shall forever on this website be known as the Antichrist, annihilated a hanging Brad Lidge slider, he sent the Astros into a funk that they haven't recovered from yet. Lidge gave up even more embarrassing bombs in the World Series, including one to Olsen Twin-skinny Scott Podsenik. The Astros were swept by the White Sox, and everyone was waiting for the Astros to trade Lidge. After all, once a closer loses it like that, he doesn't get it back, right? Mitch Williams, Donnie Moore, Byung Hung-Kim, Calvin Schiraldi...I mean, none of them got it back, right?

We waited for them to trade him during the 2006 season when we fell 1.5 games short of the Cardinals, and he blew seven saves that season, including two against them. If he saved three of the seven he blew, the Astros win the NL Central again. Instead, we watched the Antichrist and his teammates celebrate their championship.

We waited for the Astros to trade him at the mid-season mark when the Astros were floundering in what was easily the worst division in baseball. At this point, watching Lidge pitch and choke away leads to the Pittsburgh Friggin' Pirates was akin to watching your old and beloved, but completely decrepit dog take a crap right in the middle of the living room floor. Sure you were upset, but you also couldn't stay mad either. It was more pathetic than anything else as you watched him lose self-control right in front of you. It should have been just a matter of time that the Astros play the loving master, and take Ol' Pup Lidge to the vets to say Last Doggie Rites. But they didn't until now.

I know that the Astros got a lot of heat for hiring Ed Wade, the ex-Phillies GM. He had been accused of running the Phillies organization into the ground. You know, the same Phillies organization that just won the NL East? Tons of people jumped onto the chat boards in Houston and ripped Wade like he was the reincarnation of David Carr. And maybe he really is that incompetent. Starting in April, we'll have 162 games to see where he stands, and what moves he will make. He's already offered Roger Clemens the opportunity to work in the front office should he decide to stay retired. And he pulled off a coup by finally, mercifully, trading Lidge along with the infrequently used Eric Bruntlett to his old team, the Phillies, for five minor league prospects. Maybe none of the prospects pan out. Maybe they do. Who knows, and sometimes, it's nothing but a crapshoot anyway.

But regardless of what the Astros get from this trade, we acquired one thing that stands out above everything else: Hope. With Lidge gone, we can finally begin to clean up the stains off the carpets of season past, and begin with renewed vigor a chance at the NL Central title and beyond. We still have Roy Oswalt, we still have Lance, we still have a plethora of solid young talent that showed their mettle as September call-ups. Maybe our bullpen still sucks, maybe it doesn't, but at least on Opening Day, I won't be having flashbacks to That Night. Maybe we can still put those nightmares to bed, and begin anew.

But as we begin anew, I can't help but feel sorry for Brad Lidge. He should have done himself the favor and just retire after the Antichrist splintered his soul. But he forged ahead, and now he's pitching for perhaps the most unlikable city in America. A city where Santa gets booed, players with potentially broken necks are jeered and D-Cell batteries are thrown at the opposition. Philadelphia's so heartless even the Grinch thinks they need to cheer up. And now Lights Out has to pitch there. When he made a mess on the carpet, Ol' Pup Lidge was doing it on the carpet of the supportive suburban family of four with a heart of gold. Now when he makes a mess on the carpet, Lidge is doing it at Michael Vick's place.

I hope he makes it out of Philly alive. But like so many old dogs, I'm just not so sure he will.


Kevin said...

I was at that game, in Houston, when AP crushed the hanging slider. And it wasn't just a long fly to left field in the laundry stands, no, it went over the fucking railroad tracks at the top and out of Enron park.

Since, and perhaps we just didn't notice when Lidge would mess up - like you mention, it was over. Here is to a new season for the 'stros, feel this could be the one.

ramiro said...

Ok, ok, now I'm gonna have to change the Astros pic.