MIAMI - The Phillies arrived in Florida this week with myriad issues, and much to accomplish. In two days here, they could not escape their problems.
Dealing with a decimated bullpen and an injured starting catcher, the Phils lost two of three to the Florida Marlins by falling last night, 7-6, at Land Shark Stadium. The ending was incredibly familiar: A good, if not great, night for Cole Hamels and well-timed hits by Ryan Howard were spoiled by Brad Lidge's 11th blown save of the season.
After Ryan Madson allowed one run in the eighth inning, Lidge allowed two in the ninth. It ended with Brett Carroll's walk-off single, driving in Hanley Ramirez on an 0-2 slider.
The loss prevented the Phils from reducing their magic number from five.
Manager Charlie Manuel acknowledged the Phils' dilemma: With so many other contingency plans thwarted by injuries, Madson and Lidge are forced into the setup and closer roles. If those two succeed, the Phillies are a dangerous team. If they perform as they did last night, the team will not win another World Series.
"It's hard for us to close a game out," said Manuel, who conceded that the Madson-Lidge combination "is kind of what we've got."
Lidge spoke with a flat voice and glassy eyes. "It's incredibly frustrating," he said, clearly struggling to explain another loss. "I'm disappointed."
This one began to unravel on the second pitch of the ninth, when Lidge allowed a double to pinch-hitter Ross Gload. He later had two outs and two strikes on Ramirez, but walked the all-star shortstop. Jorge Cantu tied it with a single, and Carroll knocked a hanging slider into center field to score Ramirez.
Manuel and the Phils have tried many strategies to correct Lidge this year, from a June stint on the disabled list to a brief September tenure as a middle reliever. The manager acknowledged last night that he was out of strategies, and that his bullpen simply needed to perform better.
"He's got to go do it," Manuel said. "Between him and Madson, they've just got to get it done."
Earlier this month, the team enjoyed the luxury of several contingency plans if Lidge remained ineffective. Onetime closer Brett Myers was set to return from the disabled list. Madson pitched impressively in several opportunities before ultimately imploding. Unconventional options such as Pedro Martinez or Chan Ho Park seemed intriguing.
Now Myers, Park and Martinez are injured. The Phillies could turn to another pitcher, such as Tyler Walker or even J.A. Happ, though Manuel gave no indication he was considering those options.
The job remains Lidge's for the moment, though even his teammates see a vast difference in the way hitters perceive the closer, who dominated last season.
"When you do struggle and you're trying to come back, in those struggles you seem to put yourself away from being invincible," said Hamels of Lidge. "And when you're invincible, teams don't want to face you. And then when you come back to the norm, they feel like they can hit you. They have that confidence, and when a team has confidence . . . they're going to get hits no matter what.
"You have to basically put the fear in them, and make them uncomfortable. Once they start getting that confidence, it is not to your advantage."