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Recruiting battle: Phils 1, Yanks 0

It is going to take a while to think about the Phillies as the overlords of baseball, the team that can outspend and out-recruit all the others.

It is going to take a while to think about the Phillies as the overlords of baseball, the team that can outspend and out-recruit all the others.

But that day is here. With their midnight strike to acquire Cliff Lee, the Phillies have assembled a pitching staff - Cole Hamels as No. 4? - that really should win the World Series next fall.

Yankees fans, who must wonder if New York bumptiousness in management and in the stands turned off Lee and his wife, always embrace the awesome responsibility of front-runner. Now, Phillies fans will learn to live with it.

Remember when Phils fans had a surly underdog mentality every time the Mets and their raffish fans came to town and took over their ballpark? Ha! That era is long gone, on both sides.

The Phillies have assembled one of the great pitching staffs in history, just going by the credentials of Roy Halladay, Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Hamels. This staff is competing with the great Atlanta staff of the past generation, the Cleveland staff of the mid-1950s, and the Los Angeles Dodgers staff of the '60s, and some Yankees staffs of various ages.

As a sobering observation, Giants fans could remind people that the Phillies were not even in the World Series this year. The Giants were a delightful surprise put together late in the season, and they deserved their championship.

But that is ancient history now that the Phillies have parlayed attendance, cable, and other income to snatch Lee from the Yankees and the Rangers.

The Yanks apparently were offering a seven-year contract while the Phillies swooped in with a front-ended, five-year contract for a pitcher who will turn 33 in August.

The Yankees, who had dreamed of throwing CC Sabathia and Lee as twin aces, always expect to get their man. Big Bronx bucks are almost always enough to bring anybody to the Bronx.

Some of them thrive, but there is a whole history of players who have not thrived in New York, for one reason or another. It's not for everybody. And presumably not for Cliff Lee from Arkansas.

Everybody will play down the incident in the American League Championship Series when a lout or three accosted Lee's wife among the travel party of the Texas Rangers. Lee assured everybody it was not an issue, which does not mean they forgot about it. They could have used the Yankees to raise the tide to float his humble little skiff to Philadelphia.

It is even possible that Lee observed the way that the Yankees' management whacked away at their captain, Derek Jeter, with leaked challenges to go look elsewhere as a free agent. That gibe did not sound like New York general manager Brian Cashman but rather somebody higher up in the Yankees hierarchy, channeling the Boss.

Cashman was complimentary toward Lee on Tuesday, although he did note that Lee had not personally informed him of his decision - "but that's fine," Cashman said.

He added that he was prepared to "climb down the mountain and get a new trail," and he praised his starters, with or without Andy Pettitte, who might retire.

Now the Yankees must pick through the leavings at the end of the free-agent season. It's just like holiday shopping. But they have as much as $20 million a season to play with, and they will think of something.

Frankly, this setback will be good for Yankees players and fans, force them to be creative, see how the other side feels. All eyes are on the Phillies now.

Lee pitched for four teams in the past two seasons and maybe was tired of orienting himself, learning new player parking lots and new gate attendants and new routes to new ballparks.

He had a trial run with the Phillies at the end of 2009 - he did not get a ring - and chose the Phillies over the Yankees as the best way to get one.