CHICAGO - It wasn't like Brad Lidge hadn't been in this situation before: Standing on the mound in the ninth inning, trying to protect a one-run lead and secure a save.
He'd been there plenty of times over the course of his now 11 seasons in the big leagues. It had just been a little while.
Prior to yesterday, Lidge had only been in one save situation since September 2010, and that came back on Aug. 3 of last year. But with Drew Storen on the disabled list, Nationals manager Davey Johnson called on Lidge to close out yesterday's game against the Cubs.
"It felt pretty familiar, to be honest," Lidge said. "I think once you get out there and you're facing the Cubs in Wrigley, you go back to facing the Cubs in Wrigley. It's a different team, of course, and the guys behind me are different, but I know what I wanted to do out there, and you just kind of fall back on what you believe is going to work."
In with a 17 mph wind blowing in from center, Lidge got into some trouble with one out in the ninth when he gave up a fly ball to deep right off the bat of Ian Stewart.
"When he hit that ball, I was like, 'Fine, he hit it but it's not going anywhere,' " Lidge said.
But the ball kept traveling. And it kept traveling. And it sailed over the head of right fielder Jayson Werth, and by the time second baseman Danny Espinosa's relay throw made it back into the infield, Stewart had slid into third with a triple. But Lidge battled back by calmly throwing a perfect first-pitch slider on the inside corner, getting Jeff Baker to hit a weak grounder to third.
Ryan Zimmerman threw home to nail pinch runner Joe Mather at the plate, and when Lidge retired Marlon Byrd one batter later, he was back in the save column.
This was exactly what general manager Mike Rizzo envisioned when he signed the 35-year-old Lidge to a one-year, $1 million deal this offseason. Lidge can pitch effectively in the seventh or eighth inning, holding leads and keeping his team in the game. But on days when Storen is unavailable to close, Lidge has the stuff and experience to work the ninth, as well.
"There was definitely a little more intensity than pretty much any games I threw in last year, with the exception of I think I had one save opportunity against Colorado," Lidge said of the experience yesterday. "It was kind of that feel that I haven't had in a little while. So it felt great to be out there. The intensity level definitely goes up a notch.
"I was trying to tell myself to just take a step back, take a deep breath and just throw strikes because you're going to have that extra adrenaline in that situation, and fortunately I've been doing it enough times where I know how to just breathe and relax and throw strikes."