Cliff Lee's dominance of the Giants in Tuesday's 6-2 victory did more than just stem another ugly roll of the tide to the Phillies stormy season. It re-ignited that age-old question about whether any pitcher, whether they are aces or stud closers, can provide significant clubhouse leadership.
Last week, you may recall, Lee offered mild criticism of his Phillies team following two losses in Cleveland by the combined score of 20-2. Only a day before, Roy Halladay chose to credit Cleveland's hot hitting for a lopsided 14-2 drubbing, but Lee's competitive mind works differently than Doc's.
``It was never really close, either one of them,'' Lee said after a 6-0 Mayday loss. ``We have to have a little more pride than that and figure out a way to at least get back into games and make it somewhat competitive.''
For Lee to back up his words, he had to wait almost a week. In the interim, the Phillies went 2-2, suffering their last two losses, at home, to the dreadful Miami Marlins by a combined score of 16-2. An optimist calls that slight improvement.
Lee is now 3-2 for the Phillies with a 3.26 earned run average. The Phillies have been shut out in both of his losses. He also has three hits, a .236 average and an RBI, has served as a pinch runner, has even attempted to steal a base, a miscalculation born of frustration.
``I've loved playing behind Cliff," Michael Young said earlier this year. ``He's basically a baseball player who pitches. He loves to compete, he has a bad at-bat and he gets pissed. It's a lot of fun to play with guys like that.''
Does it translate into energy? Does it carry over? Is clubhouse leadership a croc anyway? Certainly the Braves didn't feel that way when they traded for Cardinals third baseman Terry Pendleton and immediately went to consecutive World Series. And while Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux are future Hall of Famers, it was the loss of John Smoltz that triggered stories about a lifeless clubhouse and lack of leadership.
That was Jonathan Papelbon's offseason theme, that the Phillies needed more leadership. And it was Young's theme that night a few weeks ago, as he spoke about ``Feeding off Cliff''' and said, ``Tonight was hopefully the start of something good.''
It wasn't of course. The Phillies offense continues to be a magician's hat. Now you see it, now you don't.
It is interesting to note that Chase Utley, the perceived team leader and normally a ghost after games, has been more available after recent ones. Utley even asked Phillies fans to be more supportive in a radio interview, saying ``The last few games at home we didn't play that well, the fans let us hear about it, and it doesn't boost your confidence that way."
Playing more games like the last three against the World Champions would go a long way towards that changing. As Lee duly noted, ``We've kind of underperformed this first month,'' he said. ``It's time for us to turn it on.''