The first pitch of the 2009 World Series was less than two hours away when the Phillies gathered at Yankee Stadium, looked around the visiting clubhouse, and could not find their starting pitcher.
“We’re like ‘Where’s Cliff? The game starts in like an hour,’” former Phillies pitcher Kyle Kendrick recalled Saturday about the team’s search for Cliff Lee.
And it is that question -- Where’s Cliff? -- that fans might find themselves asking on Sunday when the Phillies honor their 2009 National League champions before the series finale against the White Sox.
Lee finally showed up to Yankee Stadium that night -- he missed the team’s bus and got lost on the New York City subway -- and pitched a complete game. It is the season’s signature night, but the man who authored it will be absent on Sunday.
The Phillies tried to get Lee, who last played for them in spring training of 2015, to attend the team’s 10th anniversary celebration, but Lee said he had a prior commitment.
“He got off at the wrong stop,” Jamie Moyer said of Lee’s subway journey. “He comes in do-do-do-do-do. I’m pitching today. No big deal. Then he goes out and shoves it up their butt. Any mortal would be going, God, I’ve had the worst day. I missed the bus. I had to take the train. It would be an issue.”
The Phillies fell short to the Yankees in six games and failed to repeat as champions, but the postseason remains memorable. There was Ryan Howard telling his teammates to “Get me to the plate, boys” before hitting a two-out double to tie a division series game in Colorado. There was Jimmy Rollins’ walk-off two-out double against the Dodgers to make sure the Phillies could clinch the pennant at home. And then there was Lee’s opener in the World Series.
“I remember Cliff being inside the locker room and even before the game, I think somebody asked him if he was nervous,” Raul Ibanez said. “I’ll never forget him saying -- his locker was near mine -- ‘It doesn’t even make any sense why somebody would ask me if I’m nervous. Why would I be nervous? I’ve been doing this my whole life.’ I was like, ‘Well, he’s going to have a great night.’ He did.”
The Phillies acquired Lee that July in a trade-deadline deal with Cleveland. He joined the team two days later in San Francisco and made his Phillies debut on a Friday night against the Giants. He threw a complete game -- just like he would do against the Yankees. But he dominated the Giants -- six strikeouts and one run -- in an unusual way. Lee threw his cutter for a career-high 35.78 percent of his pitches.
“Paul Bako was catching,” Eric Bruntlett said. “I was talking to Paul before the game and he was a little bit nervous. He’s like ‘I’ve never talked to this guy. I don’t know what he wants to do.’ He’s like ‘high fastballs and cutters, right?’ I said ‘Yeah, that’s what it looks like to me. Let’s go get ‘em.’”
“The next day we’re talking to Cliff. I’m asking him how he felt and how it went. He pitched an unbelievable game. He’s like ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever thrown that many cutters before in my life.’ I said ‘What’s up with that?’ ‘I don’t shake off all that much and Paul was calling a good game and so I kept going with it.’ It’s funny.”
Lee went 8-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts that season after being traded from Cleveland. He pitched three complete games. The left hander, Bruntlett said, was a difference maker. His arrival, Kendrick said, was a huge boost when the team needed it. Lee, Matt Stairs said, was just so cool. Nothing bothered him, not even getting lost in the subway and showing up to the park with the clock ticking.
“My locker was next to his and we’d be talking some days and I’d look up and be like ‘Dude, you have to go out and warm up.’ He’d be like whatever. That’s Cliff,” Kendrick said. “He was at his best that night in the World Series. It was just typical Cliff. He was just one of those guys. No stress, no pressure. That’s how he is. No worries.”
Gabe Kapler was asked before Saturday’s game if there was anything he wishes he would have done differently on Friday night after the Phillies lost, 4-3 in 15 innings, with a pitcher in the outfield and an outfielder on the mound.“That’s a good question,” Kapler said before racking his brain for a moment. “Maybe run for Eflin with Vince when he was on first base.”Kapler subbed Zach Eflin, who pitched in relief for the 12th and 13th innings, and used Vince Velasquez as a pinch-runner. The manager lifted Eflin after a walk moved him from first to second because Eflin told Kapler when he was on-deck that his right triceps was sore. The Phillies had planned to ride Eflin, who was their last pitcher, for as long as he could go.Instead, they had to use Roman Quinn for the final two innings. Velasquez played left field because the team was out of position players. Swapping Eflin for Velasquez a base earlier would not have prevented that.“Could have,” Kapler said. “I don’t know if it was a should have but it was a could have. I think those moves are especially interesting. I think there was still some debate. That was a tough decision. There was still some hemming and hawing. I would have loved to safely use Eflin for another inning. That would have been really good.”