- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
That was the pivot point, that night last December when Cliff astonished 1.5 million inferiority complexes by spurning bigger money from the big-shot sib 100 miles north ... and chose them. That next dawn—even more than the 2008 World Series spanking of an unpedigreed Tampa Bay team—was when the sky opened and the seeping wound began drying up: Day One in Baseball Heaven. That morning when Philly, for the first time in a century and a quarter of professional sports, finally knew that the owners of one of its teams needed it as desperately as Philly itself did. The day when Cliff pinpointed them, those oft-bashed banshees, as a major reason for his Second Coming, and the All-In cry rang like church bells through the city: Empty your wallets, max your credit card—red-and-white duds for the wife, kids and pooch, 18-game Sunday packages, Amtrak train tickets, road trips wherever the boys are playing some ball.
And, oh, did it ever pan out. Halladay, 19--6 through the season's final weekend, and Lee, 16--8, right in the thick of the Cy Young race until the final two weeks, when the Phillies—having secured the NL East—downshifted, began resting tired and nicked-up players and went on an eight-game losing streak. Their starting staff's 2.87 ERA was the best rotation ERA in the majors in the last 26 years. Their pitchers overall recorded the most strikeouts in team history and the best team ERA since 1917. Lee's six shutouts were three times the total of the next-closest pitcher in the league, and he was one out away from two more. Even during the two months when he struggled, no big-money free agent in history has played under less pressure, or been bubble-wrapped in more love, than Cliff Lee, 2011. But could a man who'd never known hell here grasp that this was heaven?
He glances left, to the senior citizens center at Broad and Lombard. The old-timers on the brick porch are describing kingdom come.
Earl Woods, 76: "I just sit here watchin' red go by. Top-to-bottom red."
Missouri Grier, gold bangles dripping from her ears, 91: "Unbelievable. All of 'em are my favorites. Ain't fair to pick one. To pick one creates animosity."
Marty Krasner, 77: "We want more excitement in the next parade that comes by here. I want Mummers in costumes. String bands. High school bands. Dancing girls. Throw in a couple of cheerleaders. And liquor."
Missouri: "As long as you drink the liquor and the liquor doesn't drink you."
Marty: "I just hope they win. Oh, I don't want to see them lose."
Missouri: "Then close your eyes."
Whoa. Cliff guns it. Leaves behind the potted plants and Rembrandt banners and artsy halls and playhouses on that highfalutin patch of Broad. Then South Street, Bainbridge, Fitzwater, Catharine, Christian, Carpenter ... gone in one black whoosh. It's impossible: Nobody in this much haste can know he's already there, in heaven. Not the college kid fishtailing down I-20 at 85 mph through an Alabama snowstorm in his mom's minivan as his panicking buddies shrieked, "Cliff, slow down!" Not the dad moving everyone else's tokens to speed up Candy Land. Not the guy who once copped a ride on an F-16 to prove to himself that he could handle Mach 2 without passing out or throwing up, or the first Phillie to race on and off the field every half-inning. Nice try, Pythagoras. The shortest distance between two points is Cliff Lee.