After his red-pinstriped heroics of last season, Phillies fans were hoping that Clifton Phifer (Cliff) Lee would be back pitching Game 1 in the 2010 World Series. After all, didn't the new Phillies pitcher dazzle the baseball world—and endear himself to Phillies Nation—with his performance in Yankees Stadium in last year's Fall Classic?
Well, we got our wish. Sort of.
In case you may have forgotten, here are the "Cliff Notes" for the 2009 World Series.
Game 1 opened at Yankee Stadium, and our new ace pitched a complete game in our 6-1 win (the one run being unearned in the ninth). He scattered six hits, struck out 10 and walked nobody. But it was the way he did it that truly impressed.
Do you remember him catching pop outs as if he were playing wiffle ball at a backyard barbecue? Lee was the coolest guy on the field, seemingly impervious to pressure and oblivious to the fact that he was ho-humming his way to a historic victory against the most storied team in sports before their intimidating fans.
Lee went on to win Game 5 at home (well, it was home then) and score the 2009 World Series: Yankees 4, Lee 2.
For the 2009 postseason as a whole, Lee's record was 4-0 in five starts (all wins), 40.1 IP, 33 strikeouts and three walks with an ERA of 1.56. The only reason his ERA was that high was because he was charged with 5 (mostly garbage-time) earned runs in the 8-6 Game 5 win.
The Phils came just short in 2009 and many fans were feeling and craving a rematch in 2010.
So what happened to prevent the rematch of the two teams considered to be the best teams in baseball? Two words: Cliff Lee. Okay, these may be Cliff Notes again, but consider this.
The Phillies did have great pitching in 2010, probably their best staff in recent history, but would you have liked your chances even more with a postseason rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Happ? (More on this later.)
The Yankees—I guess Lola does not get everybody and everything Lola wants...forgive the musical reference—lost out to Texas in its attempt to acquire you-know-who at the trade deadline. You may have seen that Lee dominated Tampa twice at (ugly) Tropicana Field, earning an ALCS showdown with the Yankees, who he made look like incompetent little leaguers in the pivotal Game 3 of the ALCS.
If it was humanly possible to do so, Lee has had an even better postseason this year than last and is now widely heralded as the best big game pitcher on the planet and one of the best—if not the best—of all-time. All this after only two seasons on the biggest of stages.
And who could argue with these postseason numbers?
In eight starts, Lee is now 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA. He has 67 strikeouts and seven walks in 64.1 innings pitched. Oh yes, he has averaged eight (masterful) innings per postseason start.
What happened on that winter morning when Phillies GM Ruben Amaro outdid himself and made it a blockbuster day. None of us were privy to whatever negotiations took place between the Phillies and Lee, but we well know the result.
On the day that the Phillies acquired the great Roy Halladay—probably the best overall starting pitcher in the game—they also traded Cliff Lee to Seattle for a bunch of minor league suspects.
The dream 1-2 punch of Halladay and Lee (and who would be able to match that?) was dissolved before it even materialized. It then transformed itself into "H20," and if I butcher any more chemical equations, please stop me.
It is hard to beat up on Amaro, who has acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt within a year's time. And anyone who even starts to complain about either Roy wasn't really watching.
But, but, but...we are still left to question what really happened in those negotiations, and why could we not have had Halladay and Lee together for just one season, and then let 2011 and beyond take care of itself?
Would the law firm of Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Happ have gotten us by the Giants? I, and many other Phillies fans, would say yes, even as I realize that Oswalt pitched great for us. He just wasn't October Cliff Lee-great, but who is?
It may be that Cody Ross and the Giants come out and shell Lee, and Lee could become human again or pitch like he did during some lackluster August outings with Texas when he was suffering through some back ailments. I guess there are smarter things to do than to bet against Bruce Bochy, Tim Lincecum and those San Francisco misfits.
There are also few, if any, dumber things to do in life than to bet against Cliff Lee in a big game, and the baseball fan (and Cliff Lee fan) in me would love to see him add to his instant-legend status in the 2010 World Series.
In a surprisingly candid media session yesterday, Lee still seemed to be more than a little miffed, and very surprised, that he was traded by the Phillies. When asked if he watched the Phillies-Giants NLCS, and what his emotions were, he replied:
"Kind of mixed emotions, to be honest with you. I pulled for a lot of those guys (Phillies players), but it's weird, when a team gets rid of you, you kind of like seeing them lose a little bit."
Lee has had only good things to say about his former Phillies teammates and about the fans, and indeed, hasn't really taken any potshots at management. Indeed, at the time of the trade, he praised them for picking up Halladay, who he referred to as the best pitcher in the game.
And one has to wonder about the mindset of a pitcher who won the AL Cy Young Award for a mediocre Cleveland team in 2008 and has now been traded three more times, despite one of the very best pitching resumes the last three years. One senses that he will sign a long-term contract this offseason with either the Yankees, or maybe he'll actually stay with the Rangers, if they can pony up enough cash.
As for Lee's thoughts if he were to face Halladay and the Phillies, the best big game pitcher on the planet remarked, "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."
Yes, it would have been a lot of fun for us to watch as well. And as much as I admire and respect Halladay, if Phils-Rangers had materialized, I would have rooted for the Phillies and for Cliff Lee. Make that Phillies 4, Lee 2.
But we'll never know what would have happened, and Phillies fans will have to settle for watching a World Series in which their team is not participating for the first time in three years.
It would have been nice to have been able to root for Cliff Lee as a Phillies ace, or co-ace, one more time on the biggest of stages. But, as that wise philosopher Michael Phillip (Mick) Jagger once rocked, "You can't always get what you want."
What we do get is Cliff Lee in Game 1 of the Fall Classic trying to beat the team that beat his former team—our beloved Phillies.
And what we still have is the trade that—even after the brilliance of H20—just won't evaporate.