It was a preposterous idea. Know how they say truth is stranger than fiction? Yeah, well this one was just too strange for even that. In the most sordid and obscene of tawdry ideas, just the thought of it should make one’s skin crawl and spine shiver.
Cliff Lee pitching in Game 1 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park? Against Roy Halladay?
It was just too good to be true, wasn’t it?
“I pulled for a lot of those guys, but it’s weird, when a team gets rid of you, you kind of like seeing them lose a little bit. I know that’s weird but part of me wanted them to win where I could face them in the World Series, too. It would have been a lot of fun. You’d like to think that they need you to win type of stuff, when that's really not the case,” Lee said from Tuesday’s media day at AT&T Park in San Francisco, 3,000 miles away from South Philly.
“When a team gets rid of you, it's funny how you have a knack for stepping up a little more when you face them. There’s a little more incentive to beat them, and that’s definitely the case with me watching the game. I was in between. I didn’t want to have to face them or want to have to face the Giants. I let that series play out, and I pulled for those guys individually, but I didn’t mind seeing them get beat, either, just because they got rid of me. That is what it is.”
Oh that Cliff… telling the Phillies they got what they deserved?
Nevertheless, while folks lament the Phillies’ offensive (used as offensive as in a segment of a baseball game and offensive as in deplorable) flop in NLCS, it’s almost like a little, sarcastic dig at the team’s oh-so sensitive brass that Cliff Lee will pitch on Wednesday night. Only instead of pitching for or against the Phillies, Lee will pitch against the not-so celebrated hitters of the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park.
Coincidentally, the last time Lee pitched at AT&T Park he pitched a complete game, four-hitter to beat the Giants in his debut with the Phillies on July 31, 2009. They weren’t the same Giants that Lee will face on Wednesday night, but they were not too far off. If anything, Lee was different then… he walked two batters.
“It does seem like a long time ago, but I remember I went through all nine innings that was pretty good,” Lee said of his Phillies’ debut. “And I remember I almost went out of this park opposite field, too. That was fun.”
Yes, he’s still as cool as ever. Unflappable might be the best word because he never, ever changes his approach or his routine. He still runs on and off the field, still pantomimes a throw into center field from behind the mound before he begins to warm up before an inning, and still throws that low 90s-mph fastball.
Of course he throws that cut fastball exactly where he wants it to go. He throws it no matter what the situation is or if he’s behind in the count. Hey, the ball is in his hands so everyone else will have to adjust to him. Better yet, he was in charge after games, too. He didn’t treat his arm with ice like most pitchers. Even after a career-high 272 innings pitched (counting the playoffs) in ‘09, Lee never strapped his arm in an ice pack after a game. In 16 of his 39 starts Lee pitched into the eighth inning. He averaged 104 pitches per start and hardly walked anyone.
And then he got even better.
It might be that mindset that helped the Rangers through the ALDS for the first time and then to the World Series for the first time in franchise history, and yes, that includes when it started out in Washington as the Senators in 1961.
“Tremendous work ethic. You know, you see him from afar, you never see him prepare to do what he does out there,” Texas manager Ron Washington said during his media day press conference. “He has tremendous work ethic, and more than anything else, he brings influence. The way he goes about his business, the energy which he plays with, the passion he has for the game, the things he goes out there and never let affect him, those are the type of qualities that a No. 1 guy brings, and it just influences every other pitcher that follows him or that's on that pitching staff. That's what he brought to us. That's one thing I didn't know.
“I knew he was a quality pitcher, but I never got a chance to see how each day that he prepares for his starts. It's amazing the work he puts in to go out there and then accomplish what he accomplishes.”
Washington is Lee’s fourth manager since the start of the 2009 season and he is also the fourth manager to say the same thing about the lefty. The Phillies gushed over Lee a lot during the postseason, too.
Of course where Lee endeared himself the most to the fans and his teammates in Philadelphia was during the playoffs. Sure, there was a bit of the dreaded “dead-arm” phase toward the end of the regular season, but when properly rested thanks to the dark nights in the playoff schedule so the networks could regroup, Lee also re-gathered himself, too. All he did was put together the greatest postseason by a Phillies pitcher, ever.
Better than Cole Hamels, Steve Carlton, Robin Roberts, Tug McGraw, Jim Konstanty and maybe even better than ol’ Grover Cleveland Alexander against the Red Sox in the 1915 World Series. Lee didn’t make his playoff debut with a no-hitter like Halladay, or end his maiden postseason game with outs against Hall of Famers Babe Ruth or Harry Hooper, but Lee was a lot more consistent.
He allowed one run against the Rockies in Game 1 of the NLDS and took the lead into the eighth inning of the clinching Game 4 before errors and the bullpen cost him a win. Had Lee held on in that one he would have become just the third person in Major League Baseball history to win five games in a single postseason.
Added all up, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including a masterful 10-strikeout, three-hitter in Game 3 of the NLCS and a 10-strikeout gem in Game 1 of the World Series where the best the Yankees could do was score an unearned run in the ninth.
No, there wasn’t a no-hitter in there, but Lee got the Phillies to the World Series and won both of the team’s games there.
So it makes sense that there is some sensitivity amongst guys like Ruben Amaro Jr. in regards to Lee. In fact, the 2010 season was almost a mirror image of 2009 for Lee. He was again traded in July from an American League doormat to a contender. Again he had some back and arm issues where he missed both the first month of the season and a handful of starts late in the year.
But when the playoffs started, Lee has been even better than he was last year with the Phillies. Going into his Game 1that will not be played in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, Lee is 3-0 with an 0.75 ERA with 34 strikeouts and one walk in 24 innings.
Pretty good, huh?
Now here’s the thing… give up on Lee at your peril. The Yankees couldn’t swing a deal for him and paid for it during the regular-season and the playoffs. Tampa Bay could have used him, too, but in the end he beat them twice in the postseason. Sure, the Phillies picked up Roy Oswalt and he was spectacular during the second half of the season. But if Amaro thought for a second that the offense would be outdone by the Giants’ lineup in the NLCS, do you think he would have given up on Cliff Lee?
Maybe the better question is just what was about Lee that keeps folks in Philly talking? After all, he arrived at the end of July and was gone by the second week of December. That’s not a long time at all and yet we’re still talking about the guy and paying attention whenever he pitches a big game.
Just what was it about Cliff Lee?
 It’s not exactly top-notch planning that the first game of the World Series will be played on the same night as the opening of the NBA season. Hey, I’d rather watch baseball over just about anything, but I understand why a person would want to watch LeBron James and the Miami Heat play the Sixers on Wednesday night. LeBron made a little news earlier this year and people love/dislike him so much that they can’t take their eyes off him. Apparently the MLB brass and the networks whiffed on this one.