LOS ANGELES — As the ball sailed deep into a California night, the first thing that entered Cliff Lee's mind was Kyle Kendrick. That is, Kendrick's money, now owed to Lee as a part of their wager for bashing another home run.
"Pretty much instantly," Lee said. "Right when I saw it go in the stands I was thinking of him."
Lee trotted around the bases at Dodger Stadium and savored every moment. He touched home plate and as he walked to the dugout, he looked to the Phillies bullpen in right field and rubbed his hands together.
Pay up, Kendrick.
In the bullpen, they could see it. Bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer said Kendrick started shaking his head. A few minutes later, Roy Oswalt called down to the bullpen from the dugout to laugh at Kendrick. Billmeyer hung up on him.
Oh, this is fun. The Phillies are 36 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 1977 season. They are toying with their opponents and while conquering the National League, they will pause to smile.
Lee's home run provided not only laughter, but also the decisive run in a 2-1 win. When he is locked in, anything is possible. In two games on this West Coast trip, Lee has tossed 17 scoreless innings. He is unbeatable right now.
And he can swing it, too.
Jimmy Rollins was standing in the on-deck circle when Lee homered. His immediate reaction was, "Damn, Cliff." Later, Rollins said Lee has the best swing of any pitcher he's ever played with.
"Cole [Hamels] has a very pretty swing," Rollins said. "But Cliff is power-packed. When he hits the ball, he hits it hard. Hitting a home run here is saying something. It's not an easy place to hit a home run."
Lee is the first Phillies pitcher since Randy Wolf in 2004 with two or more home runs in a season. He's only the third Phillies pitcher to ever hit at least two home runs and steal a base.
Dodgers lefthander Ted Lilly fell behind 2-0 to Lee and countered with an 81 m.p.h. change-up on the outside edge. Lee said he thought it was a fastball. He swung like it.
"That's what happens when you swing the bat sometimes," Charlie Manuel said. "You might catch one."
After gesturing to Kendrick, Lee was mobbed in the dugout. Manuel, wearing a wide grin, slapped him. But the best celebration came with Carlos Ruiz. The catcher did The Claw, popularized by the Texas Rangers last season, and Lee made deer antlers with his right hand.
Ruiz couldn't stop smiling.
"I think I enjoyed that because he's the kind of guy who loves to hit," Ruiz said. "He likes to compete. He goes up to home plate and he always wants to swing. He gets mad sometimes because he has to bunt."
The bet with Kendrick lasts the whole year, Lee said. What's at stake?
"It's just a friendly wager," a smirking Lee said. "Whatever. I think we'll keep that between us. We can call it dinner or whatever you want to call it."
Kendrick denied such an agreement exists.
"He doesn't know what he's talking about," Kendrick said. "He's just being Cliff."
On most nights, that means incredible things for the Phillies.
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