BRAD LIDGE remembers what it felt like to be a first-timer.
It was 2004. He was a 27-year-old closer who had just completed his second full season in the majors. During the regular season, he had saved 29 games while posting a 1.90 ERA and striking out an eye-popping 14.9 batters per nine innings.
But the world he left behind and the one he had just entered seemed to be located in different galaxies.
"You had a lot of adrenaline day to day, especially when it all got started," said Lidge, now a 33-year-old veteran preparing for his fifth National League Championship Series. "Warming up, you probably have more of that than you've ever had in your career before. It's a matter of being able to take that and use it when you pitch, and not fight against it when you pitch. And that's that first game that you pitch in the NLCS or the World Series, that's kind of the feeling you have. You have to use it to your advantage instead of it hindering you, which it can do."
The big unknown is how that feeling will affect the San Francisco Giants, who are preparing for their first NLCS since 2002. Back then, Barry Bonds was the star of the show and Tim Lincecum was a senior at Liberty High School in Renton, Wash. Now, Bonds has given way to an eclectic mix of veteran castoffs and homegrown stars whose one common thread is their overall lack of big-stage experience.
Only two of the Giants' projected regulars - former Phillie Pat Burrell and former White Sox Juan Uribe - have played in a league championship series. The only playoff experience logged by their four projected starting pitchers was in their division series win over the Braves; same for the bullpen.
The Phillies, meanwhile, boast a battle-tested roster full of key performers who have lived life on the big stage. All eight of their regulars have played at least 10 games in an LCS. The only pitcher who has yet to pitch in this round of the playoffs is Roy Halladay, who showed no first-time jitters last week when he no-hit the Reds in his postseason debut.
The only three players on the Phillies' NLCS roster who are appearing in their first postseason are backup catcher Brian Schneider, backup first baseman Ryan Sweeney, and backup outfielder Domonic Brown.
"I think, basically, any time you go through something, I think the next time, or if you keep doing it over and over, it has to help you," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Absolutely, it has to help you. It has to help you as far as relaxing. It has to help you as far as you kind of expect what's happening . . . And I think, without a doubt, experience is probably one of the best teachers you can have."
Against the Reds in the NLDS, the Phillies benefited from six unearned runs, five of them coming in a come-from-behind victory in Game 2 that turned the tide of the series.
But the Giants did not play like first-timers in their NLDS win over the Braves. All four of the games they played were decided by one run. Three were decided in the seventh inning or later, and two were decided in the final frame.
"Experience does help," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, "as far as controlling your emotions, learning how to think through difficult situations, learning how to put the noise behind you, knowing what it's like going into somebody else's backyard and their fans cheering for them to win and you to lose. That helps, but prior to 2008, we didn't have any experience, and we won it all. So once the ball drops and the umpire says play ball, that's what you do."
Tonight, the Phillies will begin their attempt at preventing the Giants from having the type of success they enjoyed in their run to the title 2 years ago.
"I would say probably 90 percent of the time it's an advantage to have that experience," Lidge said. "Ten percent of the time, depending on the make-up of their guys, which is something we don't know, it can be an advantage for them. Because that extra adrenaline, if they are really able to lock it up and dial it in, can really be a big-time advantage. We know what we expect ourselves to do, but we have to go out there and still do it. I think being so new to them, they might play out of their shoes, or it might hinder them. There's just no way to tell at this point."