Apr 212010

by Mike Radano

In September of 2007 and Brett Myers was strutting around the Phillies clubhouse like he owned the world.

Actually, that’s pretty much what Myers did throughout his time with the Phillies but this just happened to be one of those times his brash style and in your face attitude meant something real.

The Phillies were in the process of overtaking the New York Mets in the National League East in historic fashion. The Mets were in collapse mode while the Phillies, shaking of years of failure and an inability to live up to their potential, were on the verge of realizing just how good a team they could be down the final spot on the roster.

For Myers, the year wasn’t easy or perfect but somehow fit him like a glove.

In the winter, reports surfaced that general manager Pat Gillick had visited Myers in Jacksonville and floated the idea that Myers could be a closer. That report was scoffed at by some but intrigued others before it was forgotten and left somewhere in the countless hours of spring training.

Then in April, after the Phillies got off to a slow start punctuated by a confrontation between manager Charlie Manuel and radio talk show host Howard Eskin, the Phillies opened a three-game series in Washington before which Manuel – after being hounded about Eskin – happened to mention that Myers was headed to the bullpen.

Myers took to the role and looked good until and arm injury put him on the sidelines. That led to a confrontation with a reporter in which Myers threw out the term “retard” and the season had that same old feeling of failure.

But Myers returned, elevated himself to closer, and the Phillies went on a magical September run.

It was at that time that Ryan Madson was approached about Myers role and his transformation into someone you could rely on in the ninth inning.

“Yeah, it’s something you have to want to do,” Madson said. “It’s hard to put into words but the ninth inning is different. Brett loves that kind of thing. He loves the attention that the ninth inning brings.

“I know I don’t want to do it.”

Times change, people change, attitudes change. Circumstances force issues and Madson, once reluctant to close is now the Phillies closer until Brad Lidge returns. On Tuesday, Madson surrendered a pair of two-out, ninth-inning home runs to Troy Glaus and Jason Heyward that erased a three run Phillies lead and eventually led to a 4-3 loss to Atlanta.

Madson’s honesty in 2007 should be valued. The 6-foot-6 reliever understood his limitations but in a team sport he has stepped up and done what he could over the past two seasons. Madson has more blown saves in his career than he has converted, which in itself is mind boggling. He blew six saves a season ago but did get the job done ten times and now, until Lidge returns – and that’s not a perfect situation on paper either – Madson is the closer.

This is a good time to ignore Monday morning quarterbacks that insist Kyle Kendrick should have stayed in the game. Kendrick entered the game with a 17.47 ERA, was over 100 pitches in just his third start of the regular season and had a three run lead. This was an easy save situation that Madson blew. Nothing more, nothing less

“(Kendrick) was done,” Manuel told reporters after the game. “The game was set up good for us at the end. I know he was throwing a shutout, but the game was set up where that’s basically what we had to do.”

“We wanted to win tonight as much as any. They took it away from us. There’s not much you can do about it, except sit there and watch it. We had guy on the mound that we wanted out there. I don’t know what you do.”

Look, the Phillies are limited in options. Danys Baez had several great seasons as a closer but didn’t pitch due to injury in 2008 and hasn’t shown he can dominate with the Phillies. That leaves who? Chad Durbin? Jose Contreras? Mick Billmeyer?

Scott Mathieson has long been an electric arm in the minors whom the Phillies brass felt had both the mental and physical makeup to close. Two – yes, two – Tommy John surgeries have put the Phillies into a very cautious mode with Mathieson and that’s understandable. Although Mathieson’s arrival may be sooner than later if the Phillies bullpen continues to struggle.

So that leaves Madson.

A quick glance at the numbers over Madson’s career show that he struggles the later in the game he appears. His ERA rises like the tide over the final three innings of games and goes 2.76 for the seventh, 3.39 for the eighth and 4.55 for the ninth. In the eighth, his strikeout to walk ratio is 3.33 which is a half a point better than the 2.60 he has in the ninth.

There is a school of thought that suggests the ninth inning is no different than the eighth or the seventh. Based on numbers and numbers alone this is true but as with almost every endeavor known to man, there has to be some sort of middle ground that’s the truth. In essence, there are three sides to every story and numbers don’t tell the story just as seeing what you see doesn’t explain everything.

Human emotion plays a huge part in what makes a good closer and what doesn’t. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has no confidence issues. Brad Lidge meanwhile has battled both physical and mental demons but still wants the ball in the ninth inning.

Myers thrived on that final moment, one in which all eyes were on him and the game was on the line.

Madson, well, maybe he does want the ball now. Maybe he has changed mentally from 2007. The fact is every closer blows a game and the reality is the Phillies have limited options at their disposal. It’s also a fact that 149 games remain on the schedule and stats in April are always a bit skewed due to the lack of information.

In the end, the Phillies lost a game they should have won. It won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last time. They will also win games they should have lost and when the do, it won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last time.

Madson for now is the closer. He alone will have to fight the mental battle that every closer encounters. The question remains, can he overcome this latest failure and how long before Lidge returns.

Even then, the Phillies will need a closer with the right mental approach to getting the final out.

Mike Radano’s blog can also be found at philliesphever.wordpresss.com and highhopesblog.com

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