Indians' Lee, Phillies' Lidge win Comeback Player of the Year awards
First, the two pitchers received a different honor Tuesday when they were selected Comeback Players of the Year.
Lee was 22-3 with an American League-leading 2.54 ERA for the Cleveland Indians and could be their second consecutive Cy Young winner. He went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA last year and was demoted to the minor leagues.
Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41 in save opportunities as the NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies' closer. In 2007, he converted just 19 of 27 for the Houston Astros and lost his spot as an elite closer.
"I never lost confidence in myself, no matter what the years were like or the results," Lidge said. "I always felt I was going to come back and pitch to the best of my ability."
Lidge hopes he can remain perfect in the playoffs, starting Wednesday when the Phillies open the best-of-five division series at home against Milwaukee.
"If we weren't in the playoffs, this season would not be a success for me," Lidge said before the Phillies worked out.
The 31-year-old Lidge reclaimed his reputation as one of the most reliable relievers in the game. After two up-and-down seasons in Houston -- following Albert Pujols' mammoth homer off him in the 2005 playoffs -- Lidge responded with the best year of his seven-year career. He was on the mound Saturday when the Phillies clinched their second straight division title and there's no one else manager Charlie Manuel wants on the mound with the game on the line.
"Where could we go get anybody better? He's been that good," Manuel said.
Lee, an 18-game winner in 2005, was nearly as flawless this season for the Indians. No one knew what to expect from Lee after he won a three-way competition for the final starting spot during spring training.
He was hurt last season, demoted to the minors and relegated to a relief role when he returned. Lee was even left off the Indians' postseason roster.
Now, Lee is the favorite to follow ex-Indians teammate CC Sabathia for the AL Cy Young Award.
"I've never seen a season like that," Cleveland manager Eric Wedge said. "From start to finish he was incredible. There were real reasons for it. He worked hard physically to get back."
Lee was Cleveland's first 20-game winner since Gaylord Perry in 1974. He joined Perry along with Hall of Famers Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn and 20 others who have worn a Cleveland uniform in the 20-win club.
"I'm sure he's going to be busy this winter," Wedge said.
Lidge's 2007 season wasn't nearly as awful as Lee's. While he did lose his closer's role and missed a month with an injury, Lidge still went 5-3 with a 3.36 ERA and averaged 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
"It's kind of a little weird for me," Lidge said. "I was tremendously honored. But I had a [3.36] ERA last year. I didn't think my year was that bad."
Lidge worked hard to return to form once his career started to unravel in the 2005 postseason. His fall as an elite closer in Houston was often blamed on Pujols' stunning shot during the NL championship series. Pujols crushed a three-run homer off Lidge with two outs in the ninth inning to send St. Louis to a 5-4 win in Game 5 that put Houston's pennant plans on hold.
"It was never quite as dramatic as it was made out to be," Lidge said. "I don't have anything to prove at all. I've pitched in a lot of games. I've had far more good games than bad games in the postseason. I know that some people may not remember that, for whatever reason."
Lidge allowed only one earned run and saved three games in the 2004 and '05 division series and the 2004 NLCS. He needs to be that sharp this October for the Phillies to beat the Brewers, get out of the NLCS and advance to their first World Series since 1993.
"Of course, I'd like to get back and win the World Series and have that be the last image in my mind for the postseason," he said.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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