Cliff Lee’s most iconic performance as a Phillie came on Oct. 28, 2009. The no-nonsense pitcher earned the nod for Game 1 of the World Series against the New York Yankees after giving up only two earned runs through 17 1/3 innings in three previous starts in the 2009 postseason.
It was a moment he waited for his entire career and he delivered, giving up only one earned run in a nine-inning complete game. It went down as one of the best individual postseason performances in team history.
Arguably, the most memorable moment of Lee’s World Series gem came in the sixth inning.
Johnny Damon, who came into the game 2-for-23 lifetime against Lee, hit a popup to the pitcher’s mound. Lee caught the ball with ease but the manner in which Lee made the catch caught everyone’s attention.
Lee’s demeanor was as easy as the catch itself. His initial facial expression slightly resembled a yawn as if he was inconvenienced by the fact he had to make a play on the ball. He would go on to make an impressive behind-the-back a couple of innings later, crack a smile and shrug his shoulders at his teammates on the diamond who found humor in his blasé mannerisms.
It was as equally baffling as it was unsurprising. Anyone pitching in the World Series is expected to display some nervous energy. Anyone except Lee.
He was in complete control of not only his pitches but his emotions. So much so he was able to transform into a parody of himself smack-dab in the middle of the biggest game of his life.
Apparently, there was strategy behind it all.
“Yeah, it looked like no big deal, this is easy. I’ve got this,” Lee told Susan Lulgjuraj of The Press of Atlantic City in 2011. “But in reality, I was thinking of dropping it and letting it hit and throwing to first base to get the guy in a rundown that was on first, but at the last second I realized (Johnny) Damon was running hard to first base and I couldn’t do the play I was thinking about doing.”
If Damon wasn’t hustling down the first-base line, Lee could have easily gotten Derek Jeter out at second. Nonetheless, the end result of the play didn’t matter too much as Lee retired the next batter, Mark Teixeira, on three pitches.
“I wouldn’t make a catch like that just totally nonchalant without somewhat of a reason,” Lee said. According to Lulgjuraj, Lee would tell this story to fans who asked about the catch. “That’s definitely why I did that, and it didn’t come across looking good for me. I don’t think so. But there was definitely a reason for that.”
The television cameras caught teammate Jamie Moyer and Charlie Manuel smirking. It was a rare light-hearted moment for the Phillies’ most stoic character.
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