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FIRST PERSON: The proper response to a demotion
by Tim Ellsworth
Date: May 1, 2007

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)--Houston Astros manager Phil Garner had to do something unpleasant. He had to demote his closer, Brad Lidge, to a setup role in the Houston bullpen.

It surely wasnít something that Garner relished, but it was a move that had been coming for a long time. Garner has to concern himself with the welfare of the entire team. It was becoming clear that giving Lidge the ball in the ninth inning to protect a Houston lead wasnít in the teamís best interests.

The once-dominant Lidge hasnít been the same since Albert Pujols sent a Lidge fastball into orbit in Game 5 of the 2005 National League Championship Series. After saving 42 games in 2005, Lidge struggled last year. He still managed to save 32 games, but his ERA for the year was a pathetic 5.28.

Lidge almost lost his job as closer last year, and he probably should have. So when he blew his first save opportunity this season and gave up five runs in another outing, it wasnít surprising that Garner yanked him from the job and installed Dan Wheeler instead. Garner really didnít have a choice. You canít have a closer who refuses to get anybody out.

There are conflicting reports about how Lidge handled the demotion. According to the Houston Chronicle, Lidge didnít deal with it well.

ďIím definitely upset about losing my role after throwing in two games, after throwing in one save situation,Ē Lidge told The Houston Chronicle. ďGarner made the decision, and I will of course stand by it. Heís my manager, and Iíll do whatever he wants me to do. But that being said, Iím pretty ticked off about it. I guess the only thing I can do is use it as motivation.Ē

But a report by Major League Baseball reporter Alyson Footer, who covers the Astros, paints a different picture of Lidgeís response.

ďObviously, [Iím not] getting it done on the field,Ē Lidge said. ďAnd, obviously, at this point, we need to call it. So what Iím hoping for out of this is it will give me a chance to throw more innings more regularly and get myself into a good grove.

ďItís obviously disappointing, but thatís the way Iím going to approach it, as an opportunity to get more work in so I can get back quickly to where I want to be.Ē

Iím hoping the second story is the more accurate of the two, because in it, Lidge shows more maturity than he appears to in the Houston Chronicle story. I donít know how two reporters covering the same story come away with such drastically different versions, but welcome to life in the media. Part of me wonders if the Houston Chronicle story wasnít sensationalized a bit for the sake of being controversial, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Like Lidge, Florida Marlins pitcher Jorge Julio is facing a similar situation. After blowing two save opportunities this season, Julio was informed by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez that heíll be pitching setup instead of closing.

Julio handled the demotion gracefully and humbly. He accepted the managerís decision with class and demonstrated a team-first attitude thatís always nice to see among professional athletes.

ďIt is best for me right now,Ē Julio said. ďI need to work on my game, especially my command. I like this team, and I want to help it, not hurt it. We have a lot of games to go.Ē

--30--

Tim Ellsworth writes this column from his home in Jackson, Tenn. Write to him at timellsworth@gmail.com or visit his blog at www.timellsworth.com for additional commentary on sports, Christianity, culture and politics.

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