With only a couple exceptions, the media has been exceedingly kind and congratulatory toward our beloved Astros. Scribes from places as far afield as Denver and Orlando have had positive things to say about the end of the 43-year drought. We're not quite America's team yet, but it's impossible to ignore the positive coverage the team has received, and how genuinely happy the well-wishers are that the Astros, given their agonizing history, were able to come back from the Game Five meltdown and take the NLCS.
And it's hard to argue with any of that. But closer to center, I have seen an opinion expressed that I have to take exception with. Both John Lopez, in his Chronicle blog, and the the Second-Guessers over on ESPN.com have expressed the opinion that with the four-run lead last night, it should have been Brad Lidge pitching the ninth, rather than Dan Wheeler.
First off, there's no way the Cardinals were coming back against any Astro pitcher, not Wandy Rodriguez, not Mike Gallo, and certainly not Brad Lidge.
But if it's obvious that Brad Lidge is going through a rough patch, while everyone else in the bullpen is throwing shutout ball, why should you feel compelled to use the guy on the down streak?
Conventional baseball wisdom (the same that got the Astros in trouble Monday) says that you have to allow Lidge to regain his confidence, and actually, I heartily agree. But how is getting three outs with a four-run lead going to help with that?
If Lidge's mindset is such that he feels he needs to pitch that frame, then it would have been a no-win situation anyway. Lidge finishes the deal efficiently, and it was too easy a situation to accurately gauge him, andof course if he somehow fails, you have a full-fledged crisis on your hands.
No, the way to do help Brad get his sealegs back is to give him the ball the first time during the Series with a one run lead in the ninth. The thing to do Wednesday night is end the game, as quickly as possible.
And Wheeler was the guy to do that.
Now that the Astros have ousted the Cardinals, the only thing Lidge needs is a clean slate, and the White Sox will provide that. Unless absolutely required, there was no reason for him to face the 2005 Cardinals again.
As angry as I was with Lidge for walking Edmonds ahead of Pujols, and as disappointed in him as I was for hanging the slider, I have no doubt that Lidge is the Astros' closer for the balance of 2005 and beyond. His stuff and his makeup are such that he will definitely recover from the full body blow he received.
The recovery will come, and for that reason, there's no reason to try and artificially boost it. Lidge had pitched in four straight games, and you usually rest your closer at that point. The Astros had a four-run lead, and you usually use somebody other than your closer at that stage.
Any suggestion that Garner should have handled the situation otherwise underestimates both Lidge's resilience and Garner's savvy.