Arms thrust to the sky on that October night, Brad Lidge was the picture of postseason perfection.

What in the world went so horribly wrong?

“In the closer role, it’s feast or famine,” Los Angeles Angels relief ace Brian Fuentes said. “When you have this job, you understand that you’re going to be under pressure, and you can’t let it affect you. You’re going to go out and do your job, and hopefully it works out.”

For New York Yankees sure thing Mariano Rivera, it always seems to come out OK.

“We have the greatest closer of all time,” teammate Mark Teixeira praised.

Especially now, when all the attention is focused on the late innings. Imagine how many titles the Atlanta Braves might’ve won if they’d been able to rely on a Rivera, rather than the likes of Mark Wohlers, Jeff Reardon and Charlie Leibrandt. Heck, even John Rocker pitched 20 2-3 postseason innings without allowing an earned run.

Ryan Franklin is about to find out how it feels. An All-Star this year, he went 38 for 43 on save chances for St. Louis. He overcame a blip in September when he blew three straight tries, and is heading into his first postseason.

“You’ve got to be careful with numbers, trying to make a point, but I think in the case of a closer when you have a success rate like Ryan’s, that’s a real reflection of how consistent he’s been,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said.

“Don’t let anybody fool you, getting three outs in the ninth with a three-run lead is not an automatic. It’s a very difficult three outs and when you have a guy that’s outstanding, the confidence that it gives your ballclub as you through the game is hard to measure, but it’s there,” he said.

La Russa has seen the toll it takes on the pitchers. Jason Isringhausen struggled after pitching in the 2005 playoffs for the Cardinals, though his troubles were nothing compared with Lidge’s downfall.

Lidge converted all 48 save chances last year, capped when he struck out Eric Hinske in Game 5 to clinch the World Series for Philadelphia. This year, he led the majors with 11 blown saves (in 42 chances) and was 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA.

“Most of the time it either has to do with injury or fatigue. Izzy’s case was the hip and I’m sure Brad went through an injury prior,” La Russa said. “Then, if your club is really good, you get out there a lot, you get a little fatigued mentally, physically. It’s a real demanding job. There’s humongous pressure.”

Manager Charlie Manuel stopped using Lidge as his closer as the Phillies got close to clinching the NL East. Manuel said starters J.A. Happ and Joe Blanton will help out in the bullpen when their playoff series starts against Colorado on Wednesday, and hasn’t committed to how he’ll use Lidge.

“My philosophy is to win the game. The game is more important than my heart. That’s why I manage,” Manuel said Tuesday. “I feel I’ve got to do the things that put us in the best position to win a game. If I think Brad Lidge can get people out, without a doubt. I’m sure there’s going to come a time when he’s definitely going to be out on the mound.”

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton and Colorado’s Huston Street have had mixed results in limited postseason action. They would like to duplicate the success of Jonathan Papelbon — the Boston relief ace has not allowed a run in 25 career postseason innings.

Rivera, however, remains the gold standard. He has a postseason record 34 saves, with an 0.77 ERA in 117 1-3 innings, and has broken far more bats than given up runs.

Rivera went 44 for 46 on save chances this season. To Teixeira, about to play his first postseason with the Yankees, Mighty Mo’s value far exceeds his numbers.

“We know that if we can get a one-run lead, any way, however we have to do it, whether we get it early, whether we get it late, if we can get that one-run lead to Mariano, he’s going to close it out for us,” he said.

“We don’t have to panic. We don’t have to worry about scoring too many runs. We don’t go crazy – if we don’t get a big hit in the first inning, it’s not the end of the world. We know we have chances, and, like I said, if we can just get that one-run lead, that’s what it takes,” he said.


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