PHILADELPHIA (AP) -The bullpen door swings open at Citizens Bank Park, and Brad Lidge jogs in to Drowning Pool's ``Soldiers.'' Soon after the music stops blaring, the game usually ends.
Lidge has been that dominant in his first two months with the Philadelphia Phillies. He didn't allow an earned run in his first 17 games before a misplayed line drive ruined his perfect ERA.
Entering Wednesday night's game against Atlanta, the hard-throwing right-hander was 10-for-10 in save opportunities with a 0.50 ERA. He'd allowed just nine hits and eight walks in 18 innings while striking out 19.
The overused term ``lights-out closer'' fits Lidge perfectly right now. He's never had a stretch where he's been this unhittable in his seven years in the majors.
Lidge credits his success and pinpoint accuracy to spending more time working on his control after having knee surgery in spring training.
``The fact I got hurt made me realize I was going to start the season late and when I did, I probably wasn't going to be pumping out 100 percent velocity,'' Lidge said. ``So, I really focused on my control for the first time in my career. I normally have very rocky Aprils. I forced myself to work really hard on locating my slider instead of just throwing it as hard as I can and that's really helped out. Now my velocity has come back and my control is there.''
Lidge has breezed through many appearances, letting manager Charlie Manuel relax in the dugout instead of sweating out the final inning. Lidge retired 21 of 24 batters at one point.
``I've seen him since he first came up,'' Manuel said. ``Every time I got a chance to see him on TV, I liked to watch him. He's got overpowering stuff and he changes speeds on you. When he's got real good command, he can get through that inning (quick).''
Some pitchers have a tough time adjusting to a hitter-friendly ballpark, but Lidge doesn't mind pitching in Philly because he got used to it at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
``I feel if a guy hits one, if he gets it, he gets it,'' Lidge said. ``There's not a whole lot you can do about it. But the only time I know you get in trouble is when you start nipping on the corners and trying to prevent guys from hitting home runs and then you start walking guys and if you walk guys, you bury yourself.''
Lidge relies on two pitches, a fastball and slider. He throws two variations of the fastball and changes speeds on his slider. When he became an elite closer with Houston in 2004, Lidge threw only hard stuff.
``Now I've learned to take a little off, work it inside and outside,'' Lidge said. ``Now that I know I have full control of both my pitches, I feel confident as ever. I actually feel better than I ever have in my career because even when I did well in '04 and '05, I didn't have the control I have now.''
Lidge converted 29 of 33 save opportunities and posted a 1.90 ERA for the Astros in 2004. He was 42-for-46 with a 2.29 ERA in '05. But after allowing a long homer to St. Louis' Albert Pujols in the NLCS - teammate Brad Aumus had the pilot announce the ball could be seen during the charter flight - Lidge wasn't the same. He lost two games to the White Sox in the World Series and had a 5.28 ERA the following year, when he saved 32 games in 38 chances.
Last year, Lidge went 5-3 with 19 saves and a 3.36 ERA in 66 games. But he blew eight save chances and temporarily lost his closer's job to Dan Wheeler at one point.
The Phillies were counting on Lidge returning to his old form when they acquired him and utilityman Eric Bruntlett for speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary and minor league third baseman Mike Costanzo.
Getting Lidge allowed the Phillies to put Brett Myers back into the rotation after he finished last year as the closer. While Myers has struggled a bit, Lidge has exceeded expectations.
``I definitely feel like this is the best stretch I've had as a big league pitcher,'' Lidge said.
If Lidge keeps it up, he'll cash in after the season. Lidge, earning $6.35 million on a one-year contract, could get a megadeal in free agency.
``Honestly, I've been so focused on first getting healthy and then contributing to my team,'' he said. ``I just wanted to get off to a great start. The results will come when they come.''
Lidge enjoys playing for the Phillies and would discuss a contract extension if approached.
``I like it a lot here,'' he said. ``I had no idea coming in what my experience would be, but I love my teammates, I love the coaching staff.''
Lidge even likes the fans, who are known to be harsh at times.
``I enjoy the fact they're passionate,'' Lidge said. ``They're not cupcake fans. They're not going to just be complacent. If you're not doing good, you'll get booed anywhere.''
So far, they've had no reason to boo Lidge.
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