Credit Cliff Lee for this: with the dropping bodies and declining veterans around him, he hasn't changed a heck of a lot since winning the hearts of Phillies fans in the summer of 2009, when he arrived and became the ace that Cole Hamels wasn't and dominated all comers from the regular season to the World Series.
Lee was dealt away after the season. And then traded again.
But he returned to the World Series in 2010, too, this time with Texas. His team lost, again.
Lee became an addict to the postseason after those two years and thought it was what he was getting into when he signed a 5-year, $120 million deal with the Phillies in December of 2010.
He's pitched in one playoff game since returning to the Phillies. The Phils missed the postseason last year and would have to play considerably better over the course of the next four months to reach the playoffs this year.
The Phillies (32-35) snapped a season-high five-game losing skid on Thursday with a 3-2 win over the Twins.
Lee was a pivotal part of that win, allowing one base runner in the game's first six innings and giving up just two runs in seven innings despite fighting a blister on his pitching hand.
But afterward, Lee was clearly not content with the state of a team he expected to be a regular entrant into the playoffs.
"The past year and a half hasn’t gone the way I would have anticipated," Lee said. "It’s why you play the games. You never know. I don’t think anyone here is happy with the way we’ve played in that time frame. It’s due to a lot of injuries. There are some good excuses, but they’re still excuses. We’re the Philadelphia Phillies. We should play better than we have. There’s not a good excuse for it, but we have had key guys injured. It kind of is what it is."
Lee has been traded four times in his career, three times prior to the trade deadline. He understands his name will once again be floated in trade rumors as long as he's playing well on a team that isn't.
"I definitely want to win -there’s no doubt about that," Lee said when asked if he wanted to remain in Philly.
And what if the team is still going nowhere fast a month from now?
"I want to win," Lee repeated. "I don’t know how else to say it besides that. I want to win."
Lee's contract keeps him in a Phillies uniform through 2015. It also includes a vesting option for 2016.
But, in 2013, he's surrounded in large part with fellow veterans who are either injured or are in serious decline. So the question begged to be asked: if Lee's main desire is to win, would he be content to play out the remainder of his contract on a team that's not winning with regularity?
"I don’t have any control over that," Lee said. "I know that I want to win and I’ll voice that to whoever. And that’s that. I want to win here. That’s why I signed here. And that’s where my focus is."
Whether Lee stays or goes in the next six weeks is unknown. Ruben Amaro Jr. said in a phone interview on Monday that he does not plan on blowing up his veteran team.
"We’re still in the business of trying to win games," Amaro said. "By no means are we looking to go backwards."
Still, Lee knows the reality. And it's not what he signed up for 2 1/2 years ago.
He thought he'd be making regular trips back to the World Series.
"Yeah, that’s what I expected," Lee said. "That’s what I expected. We’ve had one chance at in 2 and a half years and this year is not over yet. I expected us to get multiple shots at it, but there are 29 other teams thinking the same thing so nothing is going to be given to you. Nobody feel sorry for you or any of that. You’ve got to go out there and earn it. I’m going to continue to do what I can to give this team a chance to win when I pitch and that’s really the only thing I can control."
DN Members Only: David Murphy says Lee sounds like he might want out.
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