Take a nap after work. Brew a pot of coffee in the sixth inning. Do whatever it takes to keep those eyes open and that television on until Brad Lidge comes out of the bullpen one of these next few nights in Los Angeles. You could be watching the defining moment of the Phillies' season before September even comes around.
The Phillies flew to the West Coast after yesterday's 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates with a very heavy question rattling around the luggage compartment.
Lidge, the team's invaluable closer, is experiencing stiffness, soreness and inflammation in his right shoulder, which might explain why he needed 26, 28 and 24 pitches, respectively, to get through his last three appearances. It also explains why he wasn't used in save situations the last two days.
Manager Charlie Manuel, privately irked about the way Lidge was handled in the All-Star Game - he warmed up six times before entering the game in the 15th inning - isn't hiding his displeasure anymore.
"He wasn't geared to throw that many damn pitches," he said.
Manuel added that he believed Lidge was OK and that the weekend shutdown was precautionary.
"We're just trying to stay away from him," he said. "But if we had to use him, he'd pitch."
No one in the clubhouse seemed all that alarmed about Lidge's condition. Chase Utley, one of the stars of yesterday's win, said he didn't even know Lidge's shoulder was tender.
Jamie Moyer tried to look at the bright side. Chad Durbin and Ryan Madson got the chance to save games while Lidge rested, and the experience could make them better.
Despite going 3-3, some good things happened to the Phillies on the homestand that ended yesterday.
Joe Blanton pitched a gem, albeit in a game the Phils lost.
Brett Myers continued to make progress with another good start Saturday night, though he was out-of-line quarreling publicly with Manuel, one of the pitcher's most steadfast supporters, when the manager made a pitching change in the eighth inning.
Also, the Phillies added an accomplished, battle-tested lefthanded reliever in Scott Eyre. He made an impact yesterday, retiring lefthanded-hitting Nate McLouth with two men on base to end the top of the seventh inning. The Pirates led, 3-2, at the time. In the bottom of the inning, Greg Dobbs tied the game with a no-out, pinch-hit double, and Utley put the Phils ahead with a two-run homer.
Eyre got the win in his Phillies debut.
"I just wanted to debut with an out," he said. "A win is a bonus."
Yesterday, Eyre was the situational lefty the Phillies lacked for most of the season, at least until Les Walrond arrived on Aug. 2. With Eyre, Manuel was able to use J.C. Romero where he belongs - in a full-inning setup role.
Eyre's arrival won't mean as much if Lidge doesn't rebound from what he called biceps tendinitis. Lidge is the guy who completes the bullpen. Losing him for any period would put the team in peril.
Lidge said he gets biceps tendinitis from time to time. He downplayed the way Colorado manager Clint Hurdle used him in the All-Star Game and believes a small mechanical flaw - his body may be moving too quickly toward the plate, causing his arm to drag - could be the cause of his soreness.
Whatever the reason, the Phillies need a complete and quick rebound. That's why we recommend a late-night cup of coffee tonight. If the Phillies have a lead sometime after midnight Philadelphia time, and Lidge comes out of the bullpen throwing 96 m.p.h. with his usual torpedo slider, you can exhale and hit the rack.
This figured to be an important week for the Phillies, even before the uncertainty surrounding Lidge. The Phils play four against the Dodgers and their new leftfielder, Manny Ramirez, then three in San Diego. The second-place Mets, meanwhile, host Pittsburgh for one, then travel to lowly Washington for three and the Pirates for four. Third-place Florida has a tough draw with St. Louis and the Chicago Cubs visiting Miami.
"We have a tough trip ahead of us," Moyer said. "It will be nice to play some good ball. We've been playing decent ball, but I don't think we've peaked yet."
Offensively, the Phils are still inconsistent. They went 23 innings without a run at one point on the homestand.
"We're too good an offensive team to hit the way we have," Moyer said. "All it takes is one pitch, one swing, one at-bat to get going."
Carlos Ruiz provided the spark yesterday. He started the Phillies' three-run seventh with a leadoff double. Dobbs continued it, and Utley put the Phils over the top, breaking an 0-for-12 drought.
Utley now goes to Dodger Stadium, where he has hit .392 (20 for 51) with five doubles, a triple, four home runs, and 10 RBIs in 13 games.
It will be worth staying up late to see what Utley can do out West. But don't go to bed with visions of October dancing in your head until you see Brad Lidge healthy and firing.