Indians ace Cliff Lee entered spring training having to battle for the last spot in the Cleveland rotation. He won that job in the final week before the start of the season and has yet to look back. Currently leading the majors in wins (21) and ERA (2.28), Lee sat down to talk about his miraculous season, a horrendous 2007 and the inspiration he draws from his son Jaxon, who beat Leukemia as an infant.
Holden Kushner: What would winning a Cy Young award mean to you?
Cliff Lee: They don't hand out too many of those a year, do they? There's only one for each league and it would be an unbelievable honor to get that. But to be honest with you, it's something I haven't given much thought to. I will continue to keep my mind in the moment. Just to be mentioned in that conversation is an honor to me.
HK: Cliff, have you given any thought as to why you are having so much success this season?
CL: Things have really come together for me this year. I've tried to keep my mind in the moment and execute pitches. I feel like my mechanics and delivery are pretty sound. For the most part, I've been able to throw the ball where I'm trying to throw it. I go into the game with a good plan on how to attack hitters. I feel like I've done a better job of stepping off, relaxing and concentrating on the next pitch after I've made a mistake. Things that people have been telling me to do forever but now I'm more conscious of it. I've tried to keep my mind in the moment. It's a mindset that's worked for me and I haven't gotten away from that all year.
HK: You've mentioned that you have to "stay in the moment," but you are having a tremendous season. Has there been a time when you've taken a step back and said, " Hey, I'm having a pretty good year?"
CL: The only time I allowed myself to do that was at the All-Star break. We had three days off there and I was really forced to reflect on it. Whatever happened in the past, there's nothing I can do about it now. If I think about how well things have gone, that's when bad things happen.
HK: Let's go back to last year. On July 27, 2007 you throw a bad game, get booed by the home crowd and demoted the next day. A couple of weeks later, the Indians leave you off the playoff roster. Would you reflect on those challenges and how far you've come in the past year?
CL: What a difference a year makes (laughs). For me, last year was a complete failure. There's no other way to look at it.. It started in spring training with an abdominal strain. That was the beginning of a bad season. Reflecting back, that's the one thing I could go into this past offseason and prevent from happening. You can't prevent it 100 percent, but my main focus was preventing that injury from happening again. When you get hurt in spring training, that hurts. As a pitcher you're working on building up strength and innings. Get hurt and you're playing catch-up. Other that that, I try not to make excuses for why I had a bad year. It was my fault. I allowed myself to get hurt. It's something that's been an issue to me. I've had two hernia surgeries and two abdominal strains and an issue with that area. That was the start of the bad season. I came back later in the season and felt fine, but I still experienced failure. I flat out didn't get it done. That's why I ended up in Triple-A. That's the way it should be. It's a learning experience.
HK: Tell me about the inspiration that you draw from your son Jaxon, who beat Leukemia and is a healthy boy today.
CL: My son had Leukemia at 4 months old, he beat that with chemotherapy, radiation and an umbilical chord transplant. By the time he was a year old he was cured. We haven't had any issues since. It's a no-brainer for me to give back to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, to raise awareness, to raise money and help out families that were in the same situation we were in. He's been an inspiration to me and my family.
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.