HOUSTON (AP) – Brad Lidge didn’t allow a game-losing homer this time. Heck, he barely let the Chicago White Sox put the ball in play.

In his first outing since giving up memorable home runs to Albert Pujols and Scott Podsednik, Lidge was back to his usual nasty self in Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Houston Astros closer struck out Aaron Rowand with two outs and a man at second in the ninth inning, then struck out two more in the 10th, getting them all to go down swinging.

Joe Crede was the only one to hit the ball fair, but all he could muster was a dribbler to second baseman Craig Biggio leading off the 10th.

Had the Astros pulled it out in the bottom of the ninth or 10th, Lidge would’ve been the winning pitcher in the first Series victory in franchise history. Houston threatened both times, too, before losing 7-5 in 14 innings.

The Astros now trail 3-0 in the best-of-7 series. While their comeback hopes are remote, at least they know the backbone of their bullpen is grooving again.

Manager Phil Garner showed his faith in Lidge by bringing him in with the game on the line. Fans responded with a standing ovation, showing they appreciated his 42 regular-season saves more than they blamed him for his last two outings.

Teammates supported him after each loss, with Jeff Bagwell noting Monday that the Pujols homer didn’t cost them the NL championship series. He was hoping the Astros could rally to make the Podsednik drive another historic footnote, even though the drama behind each guarantees them a permanent spot on television highlights.

Lidge never got down on himself either, saying he has the short memory all closers need and vowing that things would be different next time around.

When it was, his teammates weren’t surprised. They hardly congratulated him when he returned to the dugout.

Lidge proved he can handle the pressure of the postseason last year, his first as a full-time closer. After blowing a save in his first chance, he rebounded with six scoreless outings, picking up three saves and a win over the division series against Atlanta and the NLCS against St. Louis. All told, he gave up only one run in 12 1-3 innings, striking out 14.

Before the Pujols homer, which came with Houston one strike from clinching its first NL title, Lidge had saved the first three games of this season’s NLCS. He pitched three times without a decision in the division series.

However, Lidge hasn’t completely lived up to his “Lights Out” nickname this postseason. He’d allowed at least one hit in his last seven outings, making this only the second time that he hasn’t.

AP-ES-10-26-05 0231EDT

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