Phillies' season rides on the arm of preternaturally calm ace Lee
PHILADELPHIA -- Earlier this week,
How he was as much a fan of Lee's as an opponent as he is as a teammate ("When he faced him, I hoped I wasn't pitching so I could just watch"), about why Lee is so tough to hit ("He just comes at you, and at you, and at you") and finally, whether he truly is as calm as the catatonic state he has shown the world this postseason would suggest. "It's almost like there's no heartbeat. It's like a flatline -- sssss" hissed Moyer, sweeping his arm straight out in front of him.
Moyer was exaggerating, but not by much. This is, after all, the same pitcher who was so good in Game 1 of the World Series that neither the Yankees offense nor New York's notorious rush hour traffic that
To date in this postseason, Lee has given the Phillies everything they could have asked, but he did not demand to give them the one thing they didn't dare ask: that he take the ball in Game 4. Lee said he would pitch whenever called upon, and manager
How effective Lee would have been is debatable, but what isn't is that once it was decided that asking him to pitch on short rest for the first time in his career was not a good idea, the Phillies were placed in a virtual must-win situation in Game 4. They didn't win, and now the Phillies must find a way to win three consecutive games in this Series knowing that they will only have the man who has unquestionably been the game's hottest pitcher in the postseason on the mound to start one of them.
On Monday, the Phillies will need yet another stellar performance from Lee, much as he has given them in each of his four previous postseason starts, to ensure that a parade up the Canyon of Heroes isn't the only baseball-related activity in New York this week. To do so, he must silence a recently rampaging Yankees offense that has finally awakened over the past two days, all the while knowing that behind him is a suddenly shaky bullpen. In short, Lee is all that is standing between the Phillies and the death of their season.
It is telling, perhaps, that even as they sit comfortably with a 3-1 lead, the Yankees are being as aggressive with their best pitchers as the Phillies have been passive with theirs. Despite having the luxury of giving
Rather than trying to deflect the magnitude of the moment, Burnett is embracing it. "I think [in the ALCS] I was a little too calm and tried to slow down too much," he said. "A pitcher like me has to go out with a little more emotion." Later, he added, "I'd lie if I said I wasn't going to go home and think about it all night. I'm not going to take it as just one ordinary game or another start. It's the World Series Game 5 and I'm the starter. That's what it's all about."
That is in telling contrast to the toned-down approach offered by Lee, who this postseason has been as tough to hit on the mound as he has been to get to know off it. Displaying the same preternatural calmness that has been his calling card all of his career, Lee refused to give in to the sense that this latest "Most Important Game Ever" is at all different from the hundreds of games that have come before it. After trying to explain for five minutes how he will not change his approach or his thinking to suit this game, he finally gave up. "To me, it's the same as every other game," he said. "I mean, I don't know how much more clear I can be about that. It's still the same game."
Lee can deflect the pressure all he wants, but he is smart enough to know that it is not just any other game. The Phillies' season rides on his left arm, and if ever there were a time for Lee to be nervous, this is it. With the way Lee has pitched of late, the Phillies will have to be considered favorites in Game 5. But there is some concern. The Yankees have accumulated 15 runs, 17 hits and eight walks in their past 15 innings at the plate. They have rediscovered their patience and plate discipline, have gotten a pair of enormous hits from
It is a situation reminiscent of 1993, when the Phillies entered Game 5 of the World Series trailing an American League East powerhouse 3 games to 1, coming off a disheartening Game 4 loss and asking their ace to keep their season alive. Then, it was
The same holds true for Lee on Monday. The Yankees are going back to New York in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. The only question now is if the Phillies will be joining them.