Despite absence, Lee still makes '09 club laugh

August 4th, 2019

PHILADELPHIA -- The most enduring image of the Phillies’ 2009 National League championship season came in the sixth inning in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, when Johnny Damon popped up a ball back to pitcher .

Lee never moved from his spot on the mound. He casually stuck out his glove as the ball dropped and caught it.

“So nonchalant, but so Cliff-like, right?” Jamie Moyer said.

The Phillies are hosting a reunion for the ’09 team this weekend at Citizens Bank Park as part of their alumni weekend. Bobby Abreu got inducted onto the Wall of Fame before Saturday night’s game against the White Sox. The ’09 team will take the field before Sunday’s series finale. Almost everybody is here, but Lee is not. He had other plans.

“Cliff, we all know who Cliff is,” Moyer said.

Calm, cool, and almost indifferent to his surroundings at times. Folks might have forgotten, but Lee almost showed up late to Game 1 of the World Series. He did not take the police-escorted team bus to the ballpark because he did not want to get there too early. He decided to take a cab, but the cab got caught in New York traffic, so he hopped on the subway and started to follow Yankees fans to new Yankee Stadium.

It took Lee some time, but he finally found the entrance.

“He comes in, ‘do-do-do-do-do,’” Moyer said. “'I’m pitching today. No big deal.' Then he goes out and [tosses a gem]. Any mortal would be going, 'God, I’ve had the worst day! I missed the bus! I had to take the train!' It would be an issue.”

Lee allowed six hits and one unearned run in a complete-game 6-1 victory. He struck out 10.

“He was just so cool,” Matt Stairs said. “Nothing bothered him. He didn’t panic.”

Raul Ibanez had a feeling Lee would pitch well that night. Once Lee finally got into the visitors’ clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, a few people asked him if he was nervous about pitching Game 1.

“I’ll never forget him saying -- his locker was near mine -- ‘It doesn’t even make any sense why somebody would ask me if I’m nervous. Why would I be nervous? I’ve been doing this my whole life,’” Ibanez said. “I was like, ‘Well, he’s going to have a great night.’ He did.”

One more great Lee story. Lee made his Phillies debut on July 31, 2009, in San Francisco. He allowed one run in a complete-game victory over the Giants.

“[Paul] Bako was catching,” Eric Bruntlett said. “I was talking to Paul before the game, and he was a little bit nervous. He’s like, ‘I’ve never talked to this guy. I don’t know what he wants to do.’ He’s like, ‘High fastballs and cutters, right?’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what it looks like to me.’

“The next day we’re talking to Cliff. I’m asking him how he felt and how it went. He pitched an unbelievable game. He’s like, ‘I don’t know if I’ve ever thrown that many cutters before in my life.’ I said, ‘What’s up with that?’ ‘I don’t shake off all that much and Paul was calling a good game and so I kept going with it.’ It’s funny.”

The story checks out. Lee threw a cutter 35.8 percent of his 109 pitches that night, the most of any start of his career. And he did it because Bako kept calling them, and because Lee didn’t care enough to say anything about it.

“Cliff was Cliff,” Stairs said. “He’s a left-hander.”