“He pitched a Lee game.”
The re-defining of our All-Stars is one of the sad fabrics of this season. Until July 4, “pitching a Lee game” could have meant that someone suffered a five-run loss, or watched their outfielders run frantically into each other, or pitched 10 shutout innings because fuck it.
Charlie Manuel seems convinced that Cliff Lee is still in there somewhere, despite his past 14 starts all being stained by offensive wastelands, defensive sideshows, or good old American crappy pitching. Today, on the birthday of the country that lets Cliff carry his crossbow when goes out to buy some slacks, Cliff pitched a Lee game. Only this time, it was the right kind.
I’m not at all aware of the crossbow laws in this country.
But that’s not the sort of awareness that was required of Cliff Lee today. The media made sure he was aware that he didn’t have a win yet, and that he hasn’t been pitching like a Cy Young runner-up, and that the Phillies are worse because of it. But he came out today and threw like he didn’t care. Which, being Cliff, he probably didn’t.
Nine strikeouts, two earned runs later and a cooler full of gatorade later, Cliff was getting high-fived and butt-smacked like he’d just tagged a boar for the 4th of July roast. The rare window of jubliance into the Phillies clubhouse was characterized by Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, two of the more intense competitors, being the ones who hoisted the cooler of Cliff’s head.
One Phillies kink, it seems, has been momentarily unfucked. With Cliff being Cliff, it was up to the offense to finish the job. Which they could not, for a very long time. The Mets tagged Cliff for one run in the fourth (Scott Hairston HR) and then another in the fifth (David Wright single), setting up a (for those not keeping track at home) two run deficit that naturally may as well have been a truly insurmountable figure, like four or even five.
16 of the first 17 Phillies went back to the dugout shaking their heads. Juan Pierre was the only survivor, breaking through with a single and a stolen base before his long trot back to the dugout after being stranded.
But when the sixth inning opened, the Phillies unleashed a salvo starting, again, with a Juan Pierre single. Chase followed with a vicious line drive home run into the Citi Field corner that carries his name, and Chooch stepped in and delivered one to left field, forcing our writers to immediately begin brainstorming what the Chase/Chooch back-to-back HR phenomenon should be called. They came up with nothing clever and were all fired.
This is America. We like our nicknames immediately and our home runs in a row.
The eighth inning offered a similar eruption, this time with no home runs, but whatever. J-Roll, Chooch, and Hunter Pence combined for three RBI and in the ninth, Ty Wigginton continued the romp through the Mets bullpen with a two-run home run.
It all culminated in a Jonathan Papelbon door-slamming, and that’s how the Phillies 2012 season turned around and became the wild, unparalleled fantasy we knew it could be.
Cliff left the mound today, smile on his face, Chooch under his arm. Out of context, it looked like just the latest win of an NL contender. Sadly, this game, at best, is a brief window of joy, or the potentially catalytic momentum-builder. By itself it’s almost nothing. We won’t know until it’s later.
But it was a Lee game. And that means something new today.