BASEBALL IS the most temporal and transient of games. Today's teammate is tomorrow's opponent. It was that way when management could trade players at will, and free agency and its ripple effect have made that more of a reality than ever.
Interleague play has dropped the latest example on our doorstep. Lefthander Cliff Lee, the most prized pitcher from winter's free-agent class, is scheduled to start against the Texas Rangers tomorrow night at Citizens Bank Park.
In his half-season in the Metroplex, after being acquired by the Rangers from Seattle before the trading deadline last summer, Lee made the same kind of indelible imprint as he did for the Phillies just a year earlier.
"He was a big part of the most successful run to date for this franchise," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said by phone yesterday.
Texas tried to bring Lee back. From all outward appearances he was headed back to the Rangers or to the New York Yankees. Only in the final hours did the Phillies emerge with a blitzkrieg offer, $120 million for 5 years, that got the job done.
Maybe that whets the faceoff to a razor's edge. Or maybe not, since players - even star players - changing sides is hardly unusual in an era when contract status often matters more than talent.
As good as he is, Lee had bounced around before nesting here. The Indians traded him to the Phillies in July 2009 because they knew they wouldn't be able to keep him long-term. The Phillies traded him to the Mariners in the offseason, in part because they thought his market would be too high. The Mariners dealt him to Texas in the middle of last season because they were having a disappointing season.
Nothing personal, just business. Besides, there's no reason for Lee to pump himself up for this rematch. He made the decision, after all. And it doesn't help the Rangers to fret about what might have been. They have to focus on the here and now.
It's not surprising, then, that the comments from the principles in this story line downplay the revenge factor.
"I don't know. I'm gonna try to get them out, you know?" Lee said earlier this week. "That's kind of behind me now. I'm a Phillie and I've got to do what's best for this team.
"I enjoyed my time there and had a lot of fun playing with those guys. They're a good team, so I've got to make sure that I'm on top of my game and not missing out over the plate, or they'll make you pay for sure."
Said Daniels: "It's going to be a challenge for our guys, obviously. I don't look at it too much beyond that."
The fact that starting pitching hasn't been the Rangers' biggest problem this year helps take the edge off. Texas was 9-2 before defending American League MVP Josh Hamilton fractured his shoulder on April 12. They were 14-18 since going into last night; he's started a rehab assignment but isn't expected to be activated until at least Monday. The bullpen has been inconsistent.
But the rotation has been fine. "Our starting pitching hasn't been the issue," Daniels said. "You could argue that Alexi Ogando has stepped into that vacancy and been our best starter so far."
Here's an interesting footnote, though: As much as he's bounced around the last couple years, this will be just the second time Lee has faced a team he previously pitched for. The only other occasion came last September when he pitched for Texas against Seattle.
Of course, he shrugged that off, too. "I knew that was it, but it's just the way the schedules have lined up," he said.
AROUND THE BASES
* BAD TIMES IN THE 'BURGH: It's tough enough that the Pirates haven't had a winning season since 1992. But this week word leaked that a team employee used the company email to urge a boycott on a local saloon offering a nickel off a pitcher of beer each time the team lost. A condensed television replay of the previous night's game somehow failed to include a botched squeeze attempt and the Pirates pitcher giving up the seventh-inning homer that lost the game. And catcher Tony Sanchez at Double A Altoona had to be scolded for an inappropriate tweet.
And, of course, that bar reported that its business is up sharply after word of the incident got around.
* WE ARE NOT AMUSED (II): After Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had to miss a week of games with shingles, Reds flagship radio station WLW decided to have a little fun with the rivals by sponsoring a Tony La Russa Shingles contest. The winner was to receive, well, shingles from a local roofing company.
Reds president Bob Castellini quickly distanced the club from the stunt, saying he was "disappointed" in the broadcast partner and that the idea was in "bad taste."
* COMMERCIAL BREAK: The latest clever TV spot for the Giants features Pat Burrell, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Freddy Sanchez in a confessional with a priest who is listening to a parishioner admit to his sins. An outstanding parking ticket. Stealing a co-worker's lunch from the office fridge.
The players are incredulous. Lincecum and Cain loudly demand to know if that's all there is. Then Burrell leans forward and puts his arms around his teammates. "Bro, you need to come out with us one night," he counsels. Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPaZwIB7yHY.
* PROMOTION OF THE WEEK: Legendary Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus dubbed outfielder Franklin Gutierrez "Death to Flying Things" when he came to the big leagues in 2009. Last year Gutierrez won a Gold Glove.
So, yesterday at Safeco Field, the team staged Franklin Gutierrez Death To Flying Things Fly Swatter Day. And they did it even though they had to know that, if a small crowd showed up, some wiseguy would be sure to observe that they couldn't draw flies.
* THE INTER-NOT: Interleague play begins again tonight and you'd probably suppose that, by now, every possible combination of team-at-team would have been exhausted. Good guess. Incorrect, however. Here are the 13 interleague matchups that have yet to occur: Braves at Royals, White Sox at Mets, Brewers at Mariners, Cubs at A's, Twins at Nationals, Astros at Blue Jays, Dodgers at Yankees, Twins at Braves, Rays at Dodgers, A's at Brewers, Padres at Blue Jays, Cardinals at Angels and Rangers at Cardinals.
PHAIR AND PHOUL
* THIRD STRIKES: The Cincinnati Reds come to town for a four-game series beginning Monday, which will give fans another chance to boo Scott Rolen. And that's fine, given that the common misperception is that he forced a trade to the Cardinals in the middle of the 2002 season because he didn't like the city of Philadelphia.
At the same time, think about this. Rolen was the regular third baseman here for 6 years and is still going strong. In the 9 years since he left, the Phillies have had four different regulars at the hot corner: David Bell (2003-06), Abraham Nunez (2007), Pedro Feliz (2008-09) and Placido Polanco (2010-11).
* QUOTE-UNQUOTE: Clearwater's Joe Savery and Reading's J.C. Ramirez were named the Phillies' minor league player and pitcher of the month, respectively, for April. Here's what Savery had to say about Ramirez: "He throws a 12-pound bowling ball. I don't even like to play catch with him."
* COMPARE AND CONTRAST: Plenty of people have talked about how the Phillies and Braves stack up against each other. But one of the managers? Atlanta's Freddy Gonzalez had this take for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
"First base, [Ryan] Howard and [rookie Freddie] Freeman, you'd take Howard," he said. "[Second base] you've got [Dan] Uggla and, who've they got now, Petey Orr [and others], so you'd take Uggla. Shortstop's a tough one. I like [Alex Gonzalez over Jimmy Rollins] just because of the defense. [Placido] Polanco-Chipper [Jones at third base]. That's a good one. That's a tossup there. I'm taking Chipper.
"Leftfield is [Raul] Ibanez and we have [Martin] Prado. I'm taking Prado. Centerfield is [Nate] McLouth and [Shane] Victorino. Victorino. Rightfield is [Jason] Heyward and [Ben] Francisco or [John] Mayberry. Heyward."
Good stuff, even though he didn't touch on catching, rotation or bullpen.
* RAP NOTE OF THE WEEK: TheFightins.com notes that rapper Waka Flocka Flame wears a diamond-encrusted Phillies hat pendant in his latest video, "Livin' Life." Not sure why, although mlb.com pointed out late last season that Ryan Howard was using his "Hard In Da Paint" as walk-up music.