“It’s not your traditional slider,” Astros catcher Brian McCann said. “It’s one of those ones that drops; it doesn’t go east to west, it kind of just falls, 12 to 6, and it comes out of the same arm slot as his fastball.”
The Phillies drafted Giles out of Yavapai College in Arizona in the seventh round in 2011. That was the last of Lidge’s four seasons with the Phillies, for whom he earned 112 saves, including the clincher of the 2008 World Series.
In college, Giles threw a splitter to complement his fastball. The Phillies wanted him to learn a breaking ball instead, and Giles had a breakthrough with the slider in Class AAA in 2014 when a teammate, Justin De Fratus, taught him the finer points. De Fratus had learned the pitch from Lidge, and Giles remembers what a weapon it had been for him.
“You’d be crazy not to see it, from when they won the World Series,” Giles said, in a spring interview before his last year as a Phillie. “To me, a lot of people say it almost looks identical but harder. That’s the best thing about it: it looks like a fastball and then just breaks down. I think that’s the greatest movement you could have, and De Fratus told me his slider did the exact same thing. That’s the biggest thing: making it look like a fastball as much as possible.”
Lidge missed most of his first four minor league seasons with injuries, largely because he could not throw a curveball without pain. The remedy came from an Astros minor league coordinator, Dewey Robinson, who taught Lidge a slider, a pitch he did not have to release so close to his head. Robinson was startled: nobody, he said, had ever picked up the pitch so quickly, or with such deception.
The trick to Lidge’s slider, like Giles’s, is that it never gives itself away by spinning with a telltale red dot. A hearty fastball also helped: in his early years, Lidge averaged about 95 miles an hour with his fastball. Giles throws even harder, averaging 98.
“Because he’s such a high-velocity guy and attacks hitters with his fastball, they have to be ready for that pitch,” said Lidge, who retired in 2012 and now works as an analyst for MLB Network Radio. “He starts that slider on the same plane as the fastball, and it just disappears. When you’re a hitter and there’s not enough time to recognize the pitch because of its spin, you’re in trouble.”
After Game 1, Giles said he had benefited mostly from a shared philosophy with Lidge, not the same exact grip. But both pitchers essentially just offset their fastball grip and try to keep their finger pressure on top of the ball, forcing it to dive down. Like Lidge, Giles has learned over time to manipulate the ball to produce different breaks.
“It’s still the same pitch,” said Giles, who has converted 36 of 40 save chances this season, including October. “You’ve got to evolve some way, with how you execute it, maybe make it break a little bit different, change of speeds, throw it for strikes. That’s just the evolution of pitching. Once you feel you’ve mastered a pitch, you want to take it a step further.”
Lidge compared Giles now to where he was in 2004 and 2005, when he threw harder and averaged 14.2 strikeouts per nine innings. (Giles has averaged 13.0 per nine across the last two seasons.)
Lidge’s slider did not always behave, of course. Needing one strike to win the pennant in 2005, he tried too hard to make it perfect — he rushed his body to the plate, his arm lagged behind and the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols punished a hanging slider for a homer. The Astros recovered to win the next game, and by his next trip to the postseason, in 2008, Lidge had added a final masterstroke to his slider, a third way to make it break.
Like Lidge, Giles can shape the slider to make it drop straight down or sweep down and away from a right-hander. With the Phillies, after years of subtle experimentation with pressure points and hand positions, Lidge also learned to make the pitch move down and away from a left-hander, almost like a splitter. That is how he struck out Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinske to win the World Series.
“I wish I knew how to do that,” Giles said. “That’s still, like, a big work in progress.”
Giles said he had not talked with Lidge since spring training with the Phillies a few years ago, when Lidge told him he had everything he needed to succeed. Lidge said he was convinced, based on Giles’s development since then, that he has the skill and aptitude to continue evolving the pitch they share.
“He’s poised to have a lot more saves for a lot of years to come,” Lidge said. “I’ve got to tell you, it’s really cool to watch.”
Continue reading the main story