SAN FRANCISCO - Cliff Lee mulls and measures his words as he does his pitches, so you can imagine the dropped jaws that met his response when asked how he watched the Phillies' NLCS with the Giants.
"I pulled for those guys individually," he said. "But I didn't mind seeing them get beat, either. Just because they got rid of me.
"That is what it is."
On the brink of his second consecutive Game 1 start of the World Series, baseball's most lethal hired gun caught the media by surprise with his comments yesterday, maybe caught himself by surprise a little, too. Alarm crossed his face as his response took a left turn from "mixed emotions" to very pointed ones about his half-season in Philadelphia. He still likes his old Phillies teammates, he said, was effusive in that praise, even used them to quantify his appreciation of his new ones.
But he's still angry at the organization, still feels the odyssey that took him from Philly to Seattle and then to Texas was avoidable.
"What's weird," he said, "is that part of me wanted them to win. So I could face them in the World Series, too.
"It would have been a lot of fun," said Lee, who will instead hook up with San Francisco's Tim Lincecum tonight at AT & T Park. "When a team gets rid of you, it's funny how you have a knack for stepping up a little more when you face them. There's a little more incentive to beat them, and that's definitely the case with me watching them."
It's hard to imagine what Cliff Lee would look like with added incentive. Without it, he is 3-0 this postseason, allowing two runs in 24 innings. Without it, he is 7-0 lifetime in the postseason, including his remarkable stint with the Phillies last year.
With it? Geez, if you think Phillies fans are bummed now, imagine a World Series in which Lee wins twice or maybe, just to rub it in, three times. If Jeremy Affeldt and Travis Wood can do a number on the Phillies' lefthanded hitters, imagine how ugly it might have looked with an incentive-laden Lee.
Especially if Roy Halladay was still feeling the effects of that groin pull. Or the effects of 272 innings pitched.
Imagine a Game 1, in Philly, in which your old ace shuts out his old team with its new ace, and with a little vengeance.
"I don't think I've seen anybody who is as unfazed as he is by the pressure, the big stage, the hoopla," Rangers outfielder David Murphy said.
So send your thank-you notes to Juan Uribe, c/o the San Francisco Giants.
"There was definitely something special about Philadelphia when I got there, and there was definitely something special about this team when I got here," Lee said. "It didn't take me long to realize that in both of those situations, and both teams made it to the World Series. I mean, to me, there's so many similarities between Philly last year and Texas this year, and it has a lot to do with the offense, just a powerful offense from top to bottom, and how they pull for each other and were one group really pulling for the other guy. That's a huge part of winning."
When the Phillies came two games short of a second straight world championship, Lee truly thought he would be back. Yeah, there was impending free agency a year down the road and, like Jayson Werth this season, he wasn't offering any hometown discount to re-sign with a team he had been with for only the last half of the season.
But he would be back at least for that next season, for another run. How could he not?
Now? Lee understands his hired-gun status last season, or at least seems resigned to it.
"Once you've been through trades and stuff, it becomes easier," he said. "Because you kind of know what to expect a little bit."
The Rangers knew that, yet still traded a better-looking package in late July than the Phillies did to get Lee the summer before, when there was a longer length to his below-market contract. The franchise is 50 years old, 1 year older than the Mets, and this is its first World Series.
Desperate times. Desperate measures.
Lee gets this now. In his short stay, he also got us. It's kind of fun, in fact, that on the brink of this big start, his response was real, heartfelt even, avoiding "The past is the past" clichés, no talk of turning pages. Indeed, as he emerged from the interview room, Lee wore that smirk of his, turned to someone and said:
"That'll play big in Philly."
Sure will. But it would have played even bigger if he got to say it there, not a continent away.
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