Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This 'Cliffhanger' ends just fine

By Alan K. Stout

Cliff Lee turns down what might have been a better offer from the New York Yankees to pitch for the Philadelphia Phillies, and all of a sudden Phillie fans are acting like they've somehow evened the score for the thumping the Yanks put on them in the 2009 World Series. In fact, this morning, Phillies fans everywhere seem more interested in taking jabs at the Yankees than celebrating the fact that they just landed a very talented pitcher. They're acting like they just put a beatdown on the Yankees ... the same kind of beatdown that Jeter, A-Rod, Matsui, Pettite, Rivera and company put on them just 14 months ago.

Sorry folks, but championships are still won on the field, not at the winter meetings. And twice, in 1950 and 2009, the Yankees and Phillies have faced off in October. And Philadelphia is 0-2.

Make no mistake, the Yankees wanted Cliff Lee badly and probably needed him more than Philadelphia. But as the negations dragged on in recent weeks and Lee played coy, some Yankee fans - myself included - and some in the New York media were growing leery of what Lee was asking for just to play in New York. Too many years for his age. Too much money. And really, if a guy who has journeyed from Cleveland to Philadelphia to Seattle to Texas in just two years doesn't think he can handle New York - the biggest stage in sports - than he probably can't.

I'd say "good riddance," but that wouldn't apply to something you never actually had. Rather, I say "C'est la vie."

Maybe Lee liked the inferior-hitting National League, where pretty much anyone that hits below the five-spot in the batting order can't hit. Or maybe he didn't want the pressure and scrutiny of New York, or playing in a division with several strong contenders every year. Or maybe the Yankee fans really got on his wife's nerves during the playoffs, as has been reported. Or maybe he just really enjoyed his brief stint in Philadelphia in 2009 and thought it was the best fit for him and his family. And if so, good for him.

Who knows? Who cares? He took less money - though even that is now being questioned -to make sure he was happy. If it's true, give him credit.

What's asinine, of course, is some of the Philadelphia fans. You know, the ones welcoming Lee "home," as if he was a lifelong Phillie and not a rent-a-player who was there for just three months back in 2009. These are the same people that whined about the aggressiveness of the Yankees front office during the 2009 World Series, yet always somehow failed to mention that the Phillies Game 1 and Game 2 starting pitchers in the 2009 World Series were high-priced stars that weren't even on their team at the All-Star break that year. These are the same people that bellyached about the differences in payroll, but didn't seen to care that their 2008 World Championship team had a payroll more than double that of their opponent, the Tampa Bay Rays.

Today, the double-standards and the hypocrisy ends. And really, hooray for the Phillies. They've got a guy who was a bit of a late bloomer as a starter, who was so bad he was sent back down to the minor leagues just a few years ago, who was 14-13 and 12-9 the past two years, and who was supposed to be the big difference in the 2010 World Series. He went 0-2.

As Mike Lupica wrote in the New York Daily news this week, Lee is not Sandy Koufax, even though everyone - especially the Yankees - seemed to be acting like he was.

Maybe having a lights-out rotation will return Philadelphia to the top of the baseball world. But it didn't work for Ted Turner's Braves, who had a comparable rotation for almost a decade and have only one ring to show for it. They didn't have the bats, something that perhaps Lee should think about as his new/old team ages, free agents begin to walk and his cleanup hitter continues to struggle in big spots.

But those concerns are for another day. The good news, right now, for Phillie fans is that you have now officially joined the ranks of the big boys. When the Red Sox were making some very big moves last week to improve their team and were shelling out a lot of dough, I said to a friend, "I have no problem with it. That's what the Sox are supposed to be doing. They've got great, knowledgeable, loyal fans that sell out the ballpark every night. And they've got money. And they put it back on the field. Good for them."

Philadelphia, for the most part, has never been that committed. And by that, I mean in both the front office and the fans. Clearly, they are now. So no more crying about being the-little-engine-that-could, and how you've built your team "the right way." The Phillies are finally doing things the right way. They're thinking about who's going to pitch in Games 3 and 4 of the playoffs, not just Games 1 and 2. And, like the Yanks and Sox, they're putting their money on the field.

But don't start waving those stupid towels in triumph just yet, or booking that parade down Broad Street. The Yanks have also spent big on pitching, and have often still come up short. Same with the BoSox. And certainly with the not-so-mighty Braves. And as for all of this jabbing and poking at the Yankee fans today, remember two things:

1) Nobody wants a guy that doesn't really want to be there.

2) We're still 2-0.

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