What a difference a year makes for the Phils

Chris Ruddick, MLB Editor

Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies entered this postseason with two major concerns. And in the end it was those two concerns that ultimately cost them another victory parade down Broad Street.

As a big a factor as Brad Lidge and Cole Hamels were in Philadelphia's second World Series title a year ago, they are that much to blame for the team's failure this season.

It was no secret that Lidge had his problems this year. Just one year after going a perfect 48-for-48 in save opportunities, Lidge went on to blow a league-high 11 games this season while pitching to an outrageous 7.21 earned run average.

I thought Charlie Manuel may have helped Lidge's fragile psyche late in the year by letting him get the final out of the team's NL East title-clinching victory.

Brad Lidge blew a league-high 11 games this season.
Just being in that moment, I felt Lidge could have been headed in the right direction. Closers are a weird bunch. They don't need a lot to get straight. It only takes one or two strong outings.

Manuel's slick maneuver seemed to pay dividends early on in the postseason, as we all watched Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Franklin, and Brian Fuentes blow saves, while Lidge, along with Mariano Rivera, remained perfect through the first two rounds.

All that mojo, though, came to a crashing halt on Sunday in Game 4.

In a series that had featured as many momentum shifts as I can ever remember one series having, Pedro Feliz swung the pendulum back in Philly's favor in a big way in the eighth inning of Game 4 with his rocket off what appeared to be an unhittable Joba Chamberlain to tie the game.

Once that ball left the park I defy you to find me someone who thought the Yankees were going to come back. I am not a betting man, but I would have bet my house that the Phils would have found a way to win after that.

Then, Manuel summoned Lidge, who got two quick outs. But a long at-bat by Johnny Damon, who walked, then made one of the most heads-up baserunning plays in the history of the postseason with his steal of second and subsequent taking of third, before scoring on a rocket down the line off the bat of Alex Rodriguez and this Fall Classic was over.

This went from being a 2-2 series with Cliff Lee on the hill for you in Game 5, to a 3-1 Yankees advantage, one they had never relinquished in eight other chances.

Game, set and match.

Then there's Hamels, who went from winning both the NLCS and World Series MVP Awards in 2008 to the guy who nobody wanted on the hill had Philadelphia reached a seventh game.

Like Lidge, Hamels' struggles were no secret entering this postseason. His regular season started by getting rocked in Colorado and ended with losses in his last two starts, surrendering 13 runs over his final three outings.

Things did not get any better for the lefty once the playoffs started, as he was charged with the loss in his first postseason start against the Rockies before allowing four runs in a win against the Dodgers. In his final NLCS start, he could not even get out of the fifth inning, despite being staked to a 6-2 lead.

But the wheels really came off for Hamels in Game 3 against the Yankees.

Hamels appeared to have some of the best stuff he had had all season, especially in the playoffs, through the first three innings of that one. However, a video-reviewed home run off the bat of Rodriguez, and that was all she wrote. Hamels unraveled and exited with one out in the fifth, having surrendered five runs.

Just like that, the homefield advantage that Philly had snatched with Lee's gem in Game 1 was now gone.

Hamels didn't help his cause after that Game 3 start either, as he mentioned that he just wanted his year to be over. Probably not something you want to hear from a potential Game 7 starter.

It is easy to say that had Hamels been the guy who he was a year ago, this would not even be a series. Well sure, but if Hamels had been the guy who he was in 2008, the Phillies never would have had to go out and get Lee.

But even with Lee and the Hamels from last year, the difference in this series would still have been the fact that the Yankees had Mariano Rivera and the Phillies did not.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.
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