Since I was a kid I’ve bought exactly one piece of Rangers clothing with a player’s name or number on it. It’s a red T-Shirt with “Lee” and “33” on the back of it.
Cliff Lee will always be on an extremely short list of my favorite players ever to play this or any other game.
Yes, it’s remarkable that the Phillies, winners of five more regular season games (102) than anyone else in 2011 and owners of the most ridiculous starting rotation in memory, failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. And that Cliff Lee’s effort in Game Two against St. Louis – in which he allowed five runs on 12 hits in six-plus innings after being staked to a 4-0 lead at home – might ultimately have been the difference in the NLDS.
But Lee gave the Texas Rangers a World Series experience, something that will benefit this franchise in countless ways going forward and something that I’ll never forget.
Lee’s departure from Texas for a club that didn’t offer the largest contract but that offered a return to a place he never wanted to be traded from in the first place effectively led to more than just the compensatory drafts picks that turned into Kevin Matthews and Zach Cone: It led to Adrian Beltre becoming a Ranger. (You’ve got to read Brad Townsend’s excellent Dallas Morning News story this morning on Don Welke’s role in helping the Beltre deal materialize.)
I’ve gotten several emails since last night offering up this quote from Lee’s December presser in Philadelphia, or another like it: “To get an opportunity to come back and be part of this team and this pitching rotation is going to be something that’s historic, I believe.”
The fact that Lee is probably going to be on a plane back to Arkansas sometime today, while they’re busy making final preparations in Arlington for yet another Game One, clearly resonates with a bunch of you. But this isn’t a case, at least as I see it, of an Alex Rodriguez or Kiki Vandeweghe or even Mark Teixeira, a star player who didn’t want to be here, and I don’t understand the urge to pile on Lee right now.
I was 100 percent in favor of letting Lee move on if it was going to take a seven-year commitment to keep him here, and it was a happy day for me when he shocked the Yankees by choosing a different new home.
But I’ll never boo Cliff Lee, and I’ll never root for him to fail, unless he’s in the other dugout on a night when his team plays Texas.
You won’t find many folks who expected such a matchup to not materialize in October 2011 because of the failure of the Phillies, rather than the Rangers, to get past the LDS.
But there aren’t any sure things in this game of failure, other than, in this case, a certainty that I’m not going to sit here and take pleasure in the fact that the season is now over for the best pitcher on the best team – so far – in Rangers history.
Here. We. Go.