10/18/05 9:09 PM ET
Notes: GM knows Lidge's resolve
Purpura has seen Astros closer through tough times
By Alyson Footer / MLB.com
Purpura guided Lidge through the lowest of lows, including a time when the closer was wondering if his big league career was over even before it started.
Lidge was the Astros' first pick in the 1998 First-Year Player Draft, and the club had plans to groom him as a starter. Then the injuries set in. One after another, after another, after another.
It started immediately. Lidge made four starts in his first pro season before missing the rest of the year with right elbow tendinitis. In 1999, he made six starts and twice landed on the disabled list with a right MCL sprain. In 2000, Lidge was sidelined for two months with a sprained right elbow, came back to make four starts and promptly took a liner off his right arm. Surgery was required upon season's end.
In 2001, he missed all but one game with right shoulder tendinitis. And on and on.
"In four seasons, he had only 100 innings pitched," Purpura recalled. "From our point of view, four years and you're not in the big leagues, and you came from a good college program [Notre Dame], time begins slipping away."
The Astros decided to try Lidge as a reliever. He was called up for a brief stint in April 2002, went back to the Minors and was recalled in September. All was well, until he made a spot start on Sept. 18. Arm problems? Nope. Now it was his abdomen. A strained intercostal muscle set in. Then, after the season, he had arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
It would have been easy to give up, but Lidge had no such intentions. He and Purpura formed a bond through the bad times, and Purpura remembers several "tough conversations" the two had over the years.
Once, Lidge strayed from his rehab schedule and was caught lifting weights before he was cleared to do so. Purpura threatened to send him home if he wasn't going to conform to the orders.
"We laugh about it now, but that's his mindset -- 'What can I do to make myself better?'" Purpura said.
The GM expects the same mindset in the wake of Monday's tough loss to the Cardinals.
"I've been asked by a lot of people already, what will this do to Brad Lidge?" Purpura said, referring to the blown save that prevented the Astros from clinching a World Series berth in Game 5. "I don't think it will do much to Brad Lidge. I think he'll come right back and do what he's done through his whole career. He's a battler, he's a fighter.
"He's a player who cares a thousand times more about his teammates than he does about himself. And I think because of that, that gives him that opportunity to kind of flush away games like this and say, 'Hey, I've got to do this for the team.' He's not worried about Brad Lidge. He's worried about what he can do to help the Houston Astros win."
Day off: They say the best thing about baseball is that with every tough loss brings the comfort of knowing tomorrow is a new day and a new game.
For the Astros, "tomorrow" was an off-day. And in this case, they needed it.
With a little less than 48 hours separating the Game 5 loss and the first pitch of Game 6, the Astros can only hope the momentum the Cardinals gained from their shocking win cooled a bit with the layoff.
"I think it gives everybody a chance to just decompress from the night before," Purpura said. "We're in the middle of October and physically, I think things begin to take a toll on guys. We had a somewhat leisurely day here ... it gives guys a little bit more of an opportunity to relax, go out to dinner and take a break from it."
Said Cardinals skipper Tony La Russa: "If we were playing today and it was a quick turnaround, maybe there would be a little carryover from Houston. But [the Astros] have an off-day and they are going to collect themselves.
"Our guys, we might still be celebrating and might not be ready to play. It might affect both of us. With the off-day, we turn the page, and by turning the page, it comes down to [Mark] Mulder and [Roy] Oswalt. As it does every game in this league, the starting pitcher has the opportunity to establish that."
Late arrival: Several Astros players started growing beards when the playoffs began as a sign of solidarity -- don't shave until it's over.
Oswalt, with just a little bit of stubble heading into Game 6 of the NLCS, didn't catch on until later.
"I started noticing these guys having pretty good beards probably about five days ago," he said. "I didn't get the memo."
Hey, it's better late than never.
"I didn't really start on it the same time they did," Oswalt said. "So I didn't want to just jump in after they got it going."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.