It is going to take a while to think about the Phillies as the overlords of baseball, the team that can outspend and out-recruit all of the others.
But that day is here. With their midnight strike to acquire Cliff Lee, the Phillies have assembled a pitching staff — Cole Hamels as No. 4? — that really should win the World Series come late October. Anything less will be failure.
Yankees fans, who must wonder if New York bumptiousness in management and in the stands turned off Lee and his wife, always embrace the awesome responsibility of front-runner. Now Phillies fans will learn to live with it.
Remember when Phillies fans had a surly underdog mentality every time the Mets and their raffish fans arrived in town and took over their ballpark? Ha! That era is long gone, on both sides.
The Phillies have assembled one of the great pitching staffs in baseball history, just going by the credentials of (might as well use alphabetical order and let the manager work out a rotation) Roy Halladay, Hamels, Lee and Roy Oswalt.
This staff is competing with the great Atlanta staff of the past generation, the Cleveland staff of the mid-1950s and the Los Angeles Dodgers staff of the 1960s, and some Yankees staffs of various ages.
As a sobering observation, Giants fans could remind people that the Phillies were not even in the World Series this year. The Giants were a delightful surprise put together late in the season and they deserved their championship, but that is ancient history now that the Phillies have parlayed attendance, cable and other income to snatch Lee from the Yankees and the Rangers.
The Phillies should win next season, which is the only season that matters, even though the Phillies signed Lee for five years. The Yankees were apparently offering a seven-year contract while the Phillies swooped in with a front-ended five-year contract for a pitcher who will turn 33 in August.
The Yankees, who had dreamed of throwing C.C. Sabathia and Lee as twin aces, always expect to get their man. Big Bronx bucks are almost always enough to bring anybody to the Bronx. Some of them thrive — Mark Teixeira, Sabathia, Hideki Matsui, David Cone, Paul O’Neill and even Alex Rodriguez, in his diva way. But there is a whole history of players who have not thrived in New York, for one reason or another: Johnson, Brown, Pavano. It’s not for everybody. And presumably not for Cliff Lee from Arkansas.
Everybody will play down the incident in the ALCS when a lout or three accosted Lee’s wife among the traveling party of the Texas Rangers. Lee assured everybody it was not an issue, which does not mean they forgot about it. They could have used the Yankees to raise the tide to float his humble little skiff to Philadelphia.
Brian Cashman was complimentary toward Lee on Tuesday, although he did note that Lee had not personally informed him of his decision — “but that’s fine,” Cashman said. He added that he was prepared to “climb down the mountain and get a new trail,” and he praised his starters, with or without Andy Pettitte, who may retire.
Now the Yankees must pick through the leavings at the end of the free-agent season. It’s just like holiday shopping. But they have as much as US$20 million a season to play with and they will think of something. Frankly, this setback will be good for Yankees players and fans, force them to be creative, see how the other side feels. All eyes are on the Phillies now.
A note of reality: Signing an established superstar pitcher is tricky because the allure is his body of work. In the past decade, the Mets have subsidized superb competitors for great work done elsewhere. This is known as the Petey Syndrome, after Pedro Martinez, who went downhill after a honeymoon, as did Johan Santana and Frankie Rodriguez.
The Phillies surely noticed that Lee did not exactly dominate the World Series, with two starts, two losses, 11-2/3 innings and a 6.94 earned run average. The postseason will chew up pitchers. Now Major League Baseball is threatening to expand its playoffs.
Lee should be fine for a few years. But five? It’s a different sport, but the Islanders fell apart collectively after winning four consecutive Stanley Cups (and playing in a fifth final) because they had essentially skated an entire extra season. Intensity adds up, particularly in the arm of a pitcher.
He had a trial run with the Phillies at the end of last year — he did not get a ring — and chose the Phillies over the Yankees as the best way to get one. He chose chesty Jimmy Rollins and the rest of that confident band. Phillies fans should now study the traditional presumptiveness of Yankees fans. As of now, the Phillies should never lose a game next year. That’s how it works.
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