Ringing phones jolted the masses awake across the Delaware Valley, the dread in their chests—Who died?—turning into disbelief, then euphoria: How often does your team actually outdream you? Men lay in beds, arms dangling over the side, tapping out, Cn u blv ths? Imgn ths %$#&* rtation! until they could contain it no more and nudged their women awake: Honey, we got Cliff Lee! Wanna have sex?
Amaro's father, now an Astros scout, awoke to the news the next morning and called Ruben. "Oh, my son," he cried, "look what you've done!" Oswalt's mother, Jean, greeted him with a whoop: "We've got a full deck now, baby! We're loaded!"
Carlos Ruiz, The Legion's lucky-dog catcher, beamed as he and his eight-year-old son scooped up chopped steak and red salsa with their breakfast tortillas in Panama. "¡Otro caballo, papá!" the boy exclaimed. "Another horse, dad!"
"¡Sí, Carlitos!" cried Carlos."¡Otro caballo!"
Usman Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American 15-year-old, emitted a silent scream at 6:30 a.m. so he wouldn't wake his mom, hung up the phone in exasperation when his father, Alam—trolling the streets of Philly in his cab—refused to believe the news and hurried off to Ben Salem High, where teachers wearing Phillies jerseys waited at the doorway handing out red let's go phillies! placards to students and grinning as teenagers' screams echoed down the hallways.
Loose Laser hadn't signed with Philadelphia so much as he'd anointed it. Chosen the city—wedged between the world's center of enterprise, New York City, and the world's center of power, Washington, D.C.—that had been nursing a couple of centuries' worth of not-worthiness. Chosen the losingest franchise in the history of American professional sports because he thought it had the best chance to win everything. Chosen the fans who, he would say two days later, didn't "need a teleprompter to tell them to get up and cheer"—words that sealed their love affair with a kiss—and chosen them, best of all, over the f------ Yankees, who'd offered him $30 million more! Go ahead, ask all the Brotherly Lovers, every last one, and they'll tell you they'll always remember exactly where and how they found out about two events in their lives that stirred totally opposite emotions: The two airplanes striking the World Trade Center ... and Cliff Lee choosing them.
HERE IS THE HOME DUGOUT RAILING. Here's where the pitching coach will perch, the 53-year-old who used to run out of his elementary school in Bridgewater, Mass., straight into Mary Ann's shop across the street and slap down his leftover lunch money for another pack of baseball cards that he'd take to his bedroom and segregate, according to teams, in a long box. Except for those now-and-then days, when Rich Dubee would thumb through the box and pick out the best of the best, create crazy teams, impossible pitching staffs, just to see those images rubbing against each other, just to hold them like a hand of cards and daydream... .
Of this. "A rotation you die for," says Dubee. A rotation that Leo Mazzone—the last pitching coach to have one like it in the Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz/Avery-or-Neagle Braves' staffs of the '90s—says he'd go through his roof and catch the first plane to Philly to coach, no need of an airport, because these four "could match up with anybody in the history of the game." Three Cy Young Awards. Thirteen top five finishes in the Cy voting. A World Series MVP and two League Championship Series MVPs. Six 20-win seasons. Four of the seven active National League starters (minimum 900 innings) with more than three times as many strikeouts as walks. Four men who work fast and attack, attack, attack the strike zone. Three of the game's top seven active pitchers in career winning percentage. A combined 20--8 postseason record. Four men who have been the Man, their team's ace, standing at the center of the game's October stage—that's what makes this staff unique even among the game's greatest in history.
Dubee smiles at all the wise guys offering him rocking chairs and forgetting that it was his demonstration of a split-fingered changeup that led to Tunnelman, impossibly, adding one more poison dart to his quiver last year. He's a crusty New Englander with a knack for knowing when vinegar's needed, when honey's better, and what's most remarkable about The Legion of Arms, he says, is that they'll need neither, because their character's not one whit less than their talent. "They don't seek attention," he ticks off. "They love competition. They put team first. Their preparation is phenomenal. They're grounded."
Kid Quantum's fine going from No. 1 to No. 4, he says; it'll just take weight off his shoulders and relax him. The Legion's a democracy—"no top to bottom," says Tunnelman, although the others would gladly crown him king. Even Loose Laser, asked who should get the ball in Game 7 of a World Series, points his thumb at Halladay. "He's the best there is in this era," says Lee. "There's nobody else even close. Ask everybody in this locker room and everybody on every other team."