The One That Got Away – Phillies Nation
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The One That Got Away

This evening, in a ballpark that will haunt Phillies fans at least until February, a skinny, 31-year-old Arkansan will take the mound in Game 1 of the World Series. This man, despite appearing in only 12 regular season games in a Phillies uniform–by the way, that’s exactly 2/5 as many appearances in Phillies red as Mike Timlin had–has captured our discourse and imaginations on the way to becoming one of the most beloved Phillies of recent memory. There are, no doubt, many Phillies fans who will be rooting for Texas in this World Series for no more complicated reason than “Cliff Lee is starting Game 1.” This despite the Rangers’ addition of Jeff Francoeur, a former Met and Brave who is reviled in these parts, and the presence of Pat Burrell–who was, during his long tenure, a well-liked Phillie in his own right–in the Giants’ lineup.

Of course, Phillies fans adore Lee for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with his 12 regular-season starts. Lee, in the 2009 playoffs, was 5-0 with a 1.56 ERA, 33 strikeouts, and a .460 opponent OPS in five starts and 40 1/3 innings pitched. He twice beat the Yankees in the World Series when no other pitcher could (despite not exactly being possessed of his best stuff in Game 5: 7 IP, 5 ER). Lee appeared out of nowhere and, as much as only one starting pitcher can, carried his team to within two games of a world title. By that measure, he earned every ounce of Phillies’ fans undying and blind admiration.

But remember–just the year before, Cole Hamels went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA, 30 strikeouts, and a .525 opponent OPS in five starts and 35 innings–not quite as good as Lee, but spectacular in his own right, and remember that Hamels left Game 5 after only 75 pitches when torrential rain and freezing cold made Citizens Bank Park unplayable–there could have been a few more strikeouts and another win on that line had the game continued. Hamels, for his part, not only won the World Series, but collected both NLCS and World Series MVP awards. What’s more, he had been a household name in Philly since he’d been drafted in 2002. But less than a year after he put up that Lee-like performance in the playoffs, Hamels was being assailed by all sectors of Philadelphia sports society. So what’s the difference?

Just about every guy out of high school–girls might be this way too, but, as you might have inferred from the fact that I write for a baseball blog, I don’t know very much about girls–can tell you about the one that got away. Now, in most cases this isn’t the kind of tragic, Patrick Dempsey-movie-fodder it sounds like. In short, there was a girl he had a crush on at some prior point in his life, and he didn’t get to explore a romantic relationship with her to its full conclusion. This could happen for one of a variety of reasons–one of them might have moved away, or they were dating other people and the timing wasn’t right, or maybe he never even got up the courage to ask her out. Whatever the reason, he’ll look back fondly on her and wonder what could have been. It most likely won’t keep him up nights and cause him to write heartbreaking songs for solo acoustic guitar, but there might, from time to time, be a nagging wonder.

In many cases, he’s better off where he is, as I’m certain the Phillies are with Roy Halladay (and if you’re still angry the Phillies couldn’t have had both Lee and Halladay at the same time, well, this metaphor only allows that kind of thing for the very, very lucky, or the very, very 19th-century Mormon). But because he never experienced the rough patches in the relationship, only the highs, he still wonders from time to time.

That, I think, is why Phillies fans have this fixation on Cliff Lee. It’s the wonder of infatuation without the danger of actually having to get to know someone. Who knows? Maybe things would have worked out with Cliff Lee in the long term, but we’ll never know. And maybe it’s better that way–after all, nothing’s more alluring than the unattainable.



  1. Sweet Dee

    October 27, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    Best. Post. Ever. Not really sure how I feel about Cliff Lee being compared to a girl… but it works. I think.

  2. Bart Shart

    October 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Cliff Lee is not coming to Philly. Get over it fans. Halladay is better. Although Lee is a great pitcher. He will pitch for Texas next year. Werth, on the other hand, may end up in Philly after all. I hope Pat Burrell does well in the WS. Also, do not be surprised if Jeff Franceur ends up signing with the Phils in the off-season. He’s young, a gold-glove outfielder with power. And the risk/reward factor would be high based on the fact he will be only 27. I hope the Giants win the series.

  3. Lefty

    October 27, 2010 at 2:53 pm

    Nice piece Michael.

    All day I’ve had this nagging vision of how it would have been at CBP tonight seeing the fans give a standing “O” to Cliff Lee prior to the game 1 that should have been.

    This was the attainable World Series that “got away” and there’s nothing alluring about it.

  4. Shane

    October 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    Cliff Lee is one hell of a pitcher. That said, it was heartbreaking to see him go. Truthfully, I’m happy we brought in Doc, but I think that Ruben could have (and should have) kept Cliff. That would have alleviated the need to trade for Oswalt and Happ could have been part of the Halladay deal instead.

    Don’t get me wrong, Oswalt is a great pitcher but if you’re asking me who I’d rather have on the mound the answer is most definitely Lee. The guy is a machine built for one purpose: playoff baseball. He’s 7-0 postseason with a 1.26 ERA with 2 games against the Yankees, and one against the Rays. Those teams pack quite a punch. I think Game 6 of the NLCS turns out different if Cliff was on the mound instead of Little Roy.

    Who knows, maybe Cliff will get his ring, spend some happy time in Arkansas, and then say, I want to go back to Philly. I hope so, anyway.

  5. Phan in the outfield

    October 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Bart: Of course odds of me being dead wrong are up there – won’t be the 1st or the last time – it’s just a guess – but I just don’t think JDub is leaving. All the smack talk by RAJ & Boras’ response to him notwithstanding, I think they both already have their 1st compromise ready for the table. I also had this thought, the smack talk might have little to do w/Werth & more to do w/their distaste for ea other (thought I’m sure neither would admit it). But the nature of things is they have to respect ea other’s jobs & work together, Madsen’s & Brown’s agent is Boras too. Boras isn’t going anywhere & neither is RAJ.

    Michael Baumann: Interesting article. I’m can admit I’m better off w/o the guys I had crushes on. God help me if I’d wound up with any of them (even if I am alone right now).

    I always liked Clifton Phifer Lee. I liked his name, I liked the ‘open look’ of his face, & the sort of brief but honest way he had of speaking. I was sad to see him go but – yeah – that was then.

    Under normal circumstances, to make the Phillies look better, I’d want the NL team to win. But for some reason I just can’t make myself like the Giants. In the end, I prefer the best team to win & I genuinely think the best team is Texas. I never thought the Giants were a really good team & I still don’t. I also never liked Pat Burrell much & I like him even less since he tried to start a fight w/Doc. Jeeze, that was stupid.

  6. Dr. Dave

    October 27, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Jeff Francoeur? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    He is a good fielder but is awful at the plate.

    I would rather have: Francisco/Brown Mayberry/Ibanez platoons

    Dr. Dave

  7. Bob

    October 27, 2010 at 3:40 pm

    I hope Lee gets rocked and the Giants win the WS.

    Not because of Lee’s comments
    Not because I dislike Lee (its the opposite)

    Because I can’t stand another year of “If we had Cliff Lee we win the World Series” from the very vocal minority of people.

    Unless Cliff Lee was going to bat in the middle of our lineup (or anywhere for that matter) and knock RISP in, then it did not matter.

    The Phils gave us CHAMPIONSHIP pitching. It was nothing short of fanastic.


    October 27, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    I AGREE WITH DR. DAVE-NO WAY DO WE NEED THAT ‘i will swing at anything” JEFF FRANCOEUR!!

  9. MikeB.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I have to go along with Dr. Dave on this one. I have not checked Francoeur’s career batting stats but by just remembering how Francoeur batted against the Phils over the years while with the Braves and Mets makes me think that the Phils would want to pass on this guy. Certainly would not be much of an improvement over Ibanez at the plate.

    So far as Pat Burrell goes, I hope that the Rangers get him out each time he comes up to the plate. I am rooting for Texas to crush the Giants

  10. ActuallyChilled

    October 27, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I do like to see ex phils do well. the statement about cliff lee having wanted to see the phillies lose. it doesn’t suprise me because he felt kind of rejected after leaving. however: when you root for a team to lose, you are reacting towards a few people in upper management, which represents a small fraction of the institution as a whole, including the players and fans, virtually all whom wanted lee to stay!

  11. Phan in the outfield

    October 27, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Honestly not one bit of me thinking Texas will win over SF has anything to do w/CLee. I don’t care. I just think Texas is better.

    Francoeur, who’s – oh the guy w/the arm growing out of his face? Oh puhleeze. I don’t know how he can even see to hit the ball.

    Burrell’s face when he strikes out — he’s always SO confounded.

    Also Sanchez started a fight too. He started off the mound toward Utley when his back was turned. That little move managed to clear the dugouts during the final game. Ooo, that guy. It’s not just his pitch he doesn’t always have control of, huh. I think I’d like to watch that team go down.

    Oh yeah – and I HATE THAT PARK. JAY…. where are you?

  12. PHILS

    October 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm

    The phillies should ship of Roy Oswalt with the money they received in the deal and sign and Raul Ibanez of to someone for free and then use the money the team is saving to sign Cliff Lee and Jayson Werth it would make the team younger and better. Also no one is talking about this but i am extremely worried about the most recent draft class as Rueben drafted so many college kids most likely in an effort to save money on bonuses, the team is getting old and the future isn’t going to be found in Free Agency while the Phillies do have first base filled for the next twenty years between Jonathan Singleton and Ryan Howard and have pitching through prospects and hamels and halladay for years, beyond right field now every position is going to need someone within the next 5 years, and the team is not going to want to turn to Free Agency in that situation.

  13. psujoe

    October 27, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Crappy clutch hitting and awful fielding lost it for the Phils. The pitching was fine.

    That said, I’d platoon BenFran and Brown in RF until Brown is ready. I’d look for an upgrade in the field and on the base paths for Raul. People glossed over his error(called a hit) when he jumped and the ball hit his friggin wrist. Crawford will cost too much. Any LF available via trade?

  14. bostonkate

    October 27, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    AMAZING.POST. The analogies were dead on.

    I adore clifton lee and will ALWAYS fondly remember game one of the ws last year and that catch he made while looking bored, as if he was that freakin amazing every damn day of the year.

    I wish him the best. I think he’ll stay in texas though. He doesn’t strike me as werth does-gonna take the biggest money and run with it.

    GO RANGERS!!!!

  15. The Dipsy

    October 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm

    In psychotherapy, this phenomenon is called “idealization”. When a man or a woman gets jilted after a blazing 3-4 month affair, it is very painful because the one who is suffering has an “idealized” view of the relationship and not one based in reality. This happens because the person has only experienced the newness and passion of the relationship and thats it. The person enevr has to experience the tedium that comes with familiarity of a longer time duration. This is when jokes become less funny, sex becomes more routine, nights in become more the norm. Quite simpy, relationships that die young leave a beautiful corpse. Hence, the Cliff Lee-as-girl analogy. Never went through a bad spell with him. He always pitched great. He had that “aw shucks” charm that sucked us in. The city was treated to a 2 months whirlwind of supreme pitching expertise seldom seen by anyone, and all happening in the heat of a pennant race. And then he was gone.

    The Dipsy

  16. Adam

    October 27, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    I am absolutely rooting for Cliff Lee. I also do not mind at all what he said against the Phillies. Lets remember the facts here: he wanted to stay, he loved in Philly, the fans embraced him and his family, the teammates loved him and then RAJ up and moved him. I would be insulted if I were Lee, simple as that.

    He was one amazing pitcher and him, Lincecum, Halladay, King Felix, and Sabathia are just other wordly impressive.

    I hope Lee is the WS MVP and I hope he resigns with the Rangers. I miss Cliff Lee but I think the Phillies outcome this season is the same with or without him. While Lee could swing the bat a bit, I think he also would have been frozen on Brian Wilson’s last pitch.

    Prediction tonight: Rangers 6 Giants 1 Cliff Lee goes 8 striking out 10.

  17. Kate

    October 27, 2010 at 6:55 pm

    Dear Pat the Bat:

    You may reclaim your Awesome Former Phillie status after the World Series and not one moment sooner.

    Until then, go get ’em, Clifton.

  18. Kate

    October 27, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    God, these Giants fans blow.

    Game 1 of the World Series and I don’t see any indication that this is anything but another game for them.

    This guy singing the Star-Spangled Banner rocks, though.

  19. Lefty

    October 27, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Anyone see that play be Kinsler? Now that’s a great defensive play by a second baseman.

  20. Ryan H.

    October 27, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    rangers scored two early of lincecum. this game is OVER. Cliff Lee is a god. Although Roy Halladay is still better.

  21. psujoe

    October 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

    Lefty, Kinsler saved them a run on that. The way Utley fielded he wouldn’t have had a chance.

  22. bostonkate

    October 27, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Man, just came in and turned on the game. GO TEXAS!!!! Cliff lee continues his godlike status in my book. And in my opinion, this giants crowd looked BORED. Do they not realize that this is the WORLD effing SERIES and that their starting pitcher is a two- time cy young winning freak of nature? Don’t think so.

  23. psujoe

    October 27, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    That runner not scoring could be costly.

  24. psujoe

    October 27, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    Crowd is really jumping!

  25. bostonkate

    October 27, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    …And all of philadelphia knows what could have been.

    Definately not Clifton’s best night tonight.

  26. Tony F

    October 27, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    Cliff Lee is human after all.

    And everyone has been saying the Giants couldn’t hit.

  27. Ryan H.

    October 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm

    Cliff Eaton looked terrible out there tonight

  28. Lefty

    October 27, 2010 at 10:02 pm

    I hate the Giants.

    This game should have been played at CBP.

  29. Andrew from waldorf

    October 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm

    Not watching.

    But if Freddy Sanchez cody Ross and whoever the other no names on thier roster get a title. It will be funny.

    Tough day for old Andrew from waldorf


  30. Sam

    October 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    Cliff Lee hasn’t pitched in 8 days and that probably had something to do with his performance tonight. All in all he did have 7 strike outs under his belt. Plus, the Rangers made a few errors and didn’t take advantage of bases loaded in the 2nd inning. All that said … I’m sure Lee will be back in rare form for his next outing and the Rangers we’ll keep chiping away at the Giants. They had the Giant fans sweating there at the end. The Rangers are a team that can explode at anytime and kill you. Look at whet they did to the Yankees. Personally, I hate the Giants and think the Rangers will take it in seven.

  31. Chuck

    October 28, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I can assure you, I do not “adore” Cliff Lee.

    I want to Rangers to win….but I am glad Lee got pounded. Not that I dislike him or what he did for the Phillies….but because at least now we all don’t have to hear…”See, I told you so. The Phillies should never have traded him”

    Even if Cliff Lee goes out in his next start and dominates….which smart money says he will….this one lousy outing shows he’s more than human in the postseason.

  32. Kate

    October 28, 2010 at 8:47 am

    Oh, Clifton.

  33. Matt Kwasiborski

    October 28, 2010 at 9:57 am

    I was watching ESPN this morning and someone commented that the last time Lee was this bad his next start was in Triple A. Maybe it was Kruk. Lee got rocked and not sure if his back was acting up but there was a little bit of solace knowing how well Halladay and the rest of the Phils pitching did in the NLCS. We all know by now it wasn’t our pitching that lost the series but our 2-3-4-5 hitters not performing in the clutch.

  34. Matt Kwasiborski

    October 28, 2010 at 9:58 am

    And if the Giants play like this, we may never see Lee again this postseason.

  35. Chuck

    October 28, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Ask yourself….what would you rather have… ??

    Cliff Lee and his postseason with the Phillies last year and his postseason this year: 7-1, 1.96 ERA, .812 WHIP ??


    Roy Halladay and his postseason for the Phillies this year: 2-1, 2.45 ERA, .773 WHIP …….the owner of a postseason no-hitter……AND…..maybe more importantly…. the fact that he pitched through a groin strain to gut out a key playoff win. ??

    Lee’s numbers are outstanding for sure…not taking anything away from the man….but Doc’s PERFORMANCES are the stuff of true heroes and legends.

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