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Lidge takes tough series in stride

Lidge takes tough series in stride

HOUSTON -- He burst onto the national scene as the Astros' ninth-inning hero in the 2004 postseason. He earned instant respect from his peers in the National League, who voted him an All-Star in 2005. He broke through the 40-save barrier in only his second season on the job.

But October 2005 was cruel to Brad Lidge.

The Astros closer didn't give up a homer in Game 4 of the World Series, but by allowing a manufactured run in the eighth inning, he still became the losing pitcher in the sweep-clinching 1-0 victory for the White Sox on Wednesday night.

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It was Lidge's second loss of the World Series, and his third of the postseason. After posting a 0.73 ERA in seven postseason appearances in 2004, Lidge finished this postseason with a 4.26 ERA in 10 appearances.

Astros catcher Brad Ausmus cautions anyone who might stamp Lidge's career with those unseemly 2005 postseason numbers.

"Anyone who is going to start questioning Brad Lidge or Brad Lidge's slider is going to be severely embarrassed when his career is over," Ausmus said in the quiet of the Houston clubhouse after Wednesday's game.

For his part, Lidge once again took on the tough blow with a healthy dose of perspective.

It was the third time in the last 10 days he had to face the music after a rough go. The first came when he allowed a three-run homer to the Cardinals' Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. The second came in Game 2 of the World Series, when Scott Podsednik took him deep for the game-winner.

The third one on Wednesday wasn't exactly a blast by World Series MVP Jermaine Dye, but the ground ball through the middle was enough to win the game and the title for the White Sox.

"I thought I threw really well today, actually," Lidge said. "They had a 12-hopper up the middle. A lot of credit goes to Jermaine Dye. He hit a decent breaking ball and it found a hole, and that was it. That was the game."

His manager saw it the same way.

"I think in tonight's case [it was] a good piece of hitting by Jermaine Dye," Astros skipper Phil Garner said. "He hit a slider where we like for Brad to throw it, and he got it up the middle. All along in the series, we talked about how they were doing a nice job of hitting and that was a classic case of it.

"I think Brad is fine. We don't get here without Brad and I thought he did a superb job. He wasn't as lights out as he was last year, but he was still lights out for us this year."

Actually, Garner felt so strongly about Lidge that he put him in Wednesday's tie game in the eighth inning.

The night before, Lidge was very much his "lights out" self in pitching 1 1/3 innings of no-hit ball, striking out three. Garner went to him again in Game 4, rather than going to Dan Wheeler, who also pitched 1 1/3 innings the day before, or Chad Qualls, who went three in Game 3.

"I felt like he was strong and I think he's our top reliever. That's why he closes out for us, so we went right straight to him," Garner said of Lidge.

In the eighth, pinch-hitter Willie Harris went the opposite way to left field to lead off the fateful inning, and he took second on a nicely placed bunt by Podsednik. Carl Everett moved the runner to third with a grounder to the right side of the infield, and Dye struck a 1-1 pitch through the middle of the infield for the game-winning hit.

In the end, Lidge wasn't hanging his head.

"I felt I finished actually pretty well the last two outings," Lidge said. "I felt I threw the ball real well."

When he reflects on 2005, the 28-year-old Lidge says it'll be the 42 saves in the regular season and his team's historic rise to the World Series that will stick with him.

"I don't really feel that I ended on a bad note," Lidge said. "They just got a run and that was it.

"Put it this way: I'm real happy with the year I had. I'll be working hard this offseason, harder than ever, to get back and do the same next year and get to the final step."

John Schlegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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