PHILADELPHIA -- Brad Lidge tried to forget the slider he hung to Albert Pujols almost three years ago. Most wouldn't let him. Since surrendering the high-profile, game-winning homer in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series -- temporarily sidetracking Houston's eventual trip to the World Series -- Lidge's closing career seemingly entered a downward spiral.
After a combined 14 blown saves and a 4.37 ERA over the next two seasons, which included losing his closing job for stretches, the Astros dealt Lidge to the Phillies in November 2007. In a classic example of a player seizing a fresh start, Lidge converted 41-of-41 save chances in 2008, and returned to be one of Major League Baseball's elite closers. For his efforts, the sport's only perfect regular closer earned National League Comeback Player of the Year honors. Named on 22 of 30 ballots submitted by MLB.com writers, Lidge received 12 first-place votes, seven seconds and three thirds, totaling 53 points. Chicago closer Kerry Wood, who overcame years of arm injuries, finished second with 34 points. He received six first-place votes, six seconds and four thirds. Cleveland's Cliff Lee easily beat New York's Mike Mussina to capture the American League Award, receiving 24 first-place votes and two seconds. With his new team, Lidge recorded his first save with the Phillies on April 7, sealing a win against Cincinnati. He didn't allow his first earned run until May 13 -- in his 18th appearance. Prior to that, Lidge had allowed just eight hits while striking out 18 in 17 innings. Saves seemed to pile up with ease for Lidge, with few exceptions. One of those came on June 6, when he tried to protect a 4-2 lead. With two outs and runners on second and third, he surrendered a two-out single to Atlanta's Yunel Escobar. Josh Anderson scored, but Shane Victorino gunned down Gregor Blanco at the plate, preserving the win. "The force was with us," Lidge said after that game. The force remained with him, especially on Sept. 27, the day Philadelphia clinched the NL East Division. Lidge raced in from the bullpen, again with a 4-2 lead. He surrendered a run and had the bases loaded with one out against Ryan Zimmerman. The Nationals third baseman rolled one up the middle, but shortstop Jimmy Rollins turned it into a sterling 6-4-3 double play. Perfection. "This season's been a grind," the 31-year-old Lidge said as he stood in the Phillies' clubhouse, soaked with champagne and wearing a gray T-shirt that proclaimed Philadelphia champion of the NL East. "Nothing's been easy." Most of the time, Lidge just made it look that way.
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.