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Lidge joins Noles, Sarge in SABR players' panel

PHILADELPHIA -- If you can make it in this town, you'll never need another. That was the takeaway from the players' panel at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) 43 Convention on Thursday, when former Phillies Dickie Noles, Gary Matthews and Brad Lidge took turns talking about what it meant to triumph in Philadelphia.

Those three men, drawn together for the first day of the annual conference, provided some interesting interplay up on stage. Noles and Matthews played together in 1981, and Lidge listened in amazement as they spoke about their era.

Noles, prompted by moderator Dan Baker, told an anecdote about a brushback pitch to future Hall of Famer George Brett during the 1980 World Series. The pitch was intentional, Noles said Thursday, and what's more, he had previously told two different Royals that he was going to hit them.

Intimidation was just part of the game back then, Noles said, and he stressed that he was glad he hadn't hit Brett in the head and done permanent damage. The Phillies lost Game 4 and wound up coming back to win the World Series, and Noles and Brett recently had another tete-a-tete.

"It took him 30 years for him to ask me if I really threw at him. And I said, 'Yeah!'" Noles said of a recent exchange. "Of course, it took him two bottles of wine for him to get up the courage to ask me. Then he walked over and said, 'Did you really throw at me?' And I said, 'Yeah!' And he went, 'Yes, I love it.' And five minutes later, he said, 'You're going to be glad I didn't get a hit.' That's the most important thing: When you knock somebody down, you'd better not give him a good pitch to hit."

Matthews joined the Phillies a year later and would go on to be named the Most Valuable Player in the 1983 National League Championship Series, but he started his segment with the microphone by vouching for Noles. Don't get the wrong idea, he said: Throwing inside wasn't personal.

"He's one of the guys that really would protect you. But the fact is he was coming up and in on everybody," Matthews said. "Back then, the Dodgers actually used to fine their pitchers if they had an 0-2 count and someone got a hit. They would fine a guy, meaning they wanted that pitch to be up and in."

Lidge, an innocent bystander for the first 15 minutes of the panel, couldn't help but get in the act as soon as it was his turn to speak. Lidge, who went 41-for-41 in save opportunities in 2008 as Philadelphia won the World Series, said he would've loved to pitch with Noles and Co.

"I just want to say after listening to Sarge and Dickie, 'Man, the game has changed a lot,'" Lidge said with a laugh. "Just listening to them talk about the intimidation factor back then, being able to pitch in and tell them, 'I'm going to hit you in the head.' And the umpire just says, 'Play ball!'

"Nowadays, where the game has changed in a big way is how sensitive everybody is out there. If you throw at a guy's head, it's a warning if you get anywhere close. Pitching is a little different, but I always thought, 'Man, I really would've loved to play in those days just to be able to get after guys.'"

Lidge, a star of a much more recent vintage, was in town for some personal business. The reliever was going to officially retire as a Phillie and be feted at Citizens Bank Park later on Thursday, and he celebrated his impending life milestone by telling a few choice anecdotes from his career.

"I had this weird superstitious thing in Houston in the Minor Leagues," he said of his number. "I had No. 20, and every time I got to 20 innings -- to the inning -- I would break down and get hurt somehow. It was like three years in a row. Somehow I kept advancing through the system and got a big league Spring Training invite and they gave me No. 54 and I thought, 'That's almost 2 1/2 times more innings.' And when I found out Goose [Gossage] had that number, I knew it wasn't changing."

Lidge, who finished his career with 225 saves, often finds himself coming back to that perfect season, an All-Star campaign that saw him go 7-for-7 in saves in the playoffs en route to the World Series title.

One fan asked Lidge Thursday if he thought it may have been easier to blow a late-season game and go into the playoffs without pressure, but Lidge said there was enough pressure anyway. And even if there wasn't, there was the media to ask him some variation of that question before every game.

"They would bring it up every day," said Lidge. "'Wouldn't it be a crime to go this far perfect and then blow it in the World Series?' A reporter asked me that question just about every single day. I'd basically say, 'Yeah, that would be a crime, but I'm not really thinking about that right now.'

"The streak or the situation never really occurred to me or crossed my mind after I started warming up. But we've got a lot of nerves before we start warming up. We're pacing down there and everything else, so everything crosses your mind at that point. Once that switch is flipped and we get on the mound ... if you get into a zone and a rhythm, all of a sudden your body starts taking over."

Matthews, whose son Gary Matthews Jr. would later make it to the Majors, can identify with that type of out-of-body experience. The former Rookie of the Year and one-time All-Star got rolling against the Dodgers in the 1983 NLCS, when he batted .429 with three homers and eight RBIs.

That was a huge deal for Matthews, who grew up in San Fernando, Calif., and developed in the San Francisco Giants organization. Plainly and simply, he just didn't like the Dodgers.

"Getting in there and playing against the Dodgers, for me, was something that I'll never forget," said Matthews. "Especially being here in Philadelphia. They're different fans than they are around the country. Their passion is a little different, because after getting used to winning, they always demanded excellence. And especially from whatever players that would be so-called "super" players.

"There was a guy in Veterans Stadium that used to boo Mike [Schmidt] unmercifully, even before he got the pine tar on the bat. And Mike could hear it and would never really look over, but he would always say, if he didn't have any hits on the road, 'Man, I'm getting ready to hear those boos from this guy.'"

Both Lidge and Noles were asked their opinion of modern reliever usage by the stat-obsessed audience. Lidge said that managers use relievers in certain situations because it's vital to keep them in roles in which they're comfortable, and Noles said it takes a special guy to pitch the ninth inning.

And when it comes to pitch counts, they had the same mind again. Pitchers just don't train to heavy amounts of pitches any more, but that's not because they're incapable of shouldering the load. It's just a matter of expectation and investment, said Noles, and the stakes are way too high now.

"We didn't have pitch counts," said Noles of pitching back in his era. "For instance, in Spring Training, now these guys have pitch counts from the time they warm up to the time they quit warming up and when they throw their five-minute session of [batting practice].

"Ours was a little different. We'd warm up for 15 minutes, then throw batting practice for 15 minutes in Spring Training. I'll never forget it. They said, 'It's for your legs. It's for the hitters. It's to get your rhythm going. You shouldn't throw too many pitches by guys.' Then, when you came back, you'd throw for another 15 minutes to work on pitches. Nobody was sitting there counting your pitches. It was when you felt like you had enough."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for
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