Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one who has fallen out of love with Cliff Lee. But I have, in a big way, ever since the Phillies’ ace pitcher blew the season last October in Game 2 of the playoffs.
When I see Cliff Lee in Clearwater this spring, I no longer find myself recalling the amazing behind-the-back stab in the 2009 World Series, or the jubilant news conference last winter that signified his shocking return to Philadelphia. All I see now are line drives raining all over Citizens Bank Park, a 4-0 lead draining away, and a certain Phillies championship drowning in his spectacular failure.
It’s not just that Lee had a bad moment in his otherwise brilliant career. If that were all it is, I could recover — eventually — from the impact of that historic collapse. But this is a case of style as much as substance. Watching Lee’s tone-deaf approach to communicating with the fans has left me almost as bitter and upset as his meltdown in that Game 2.
Last week, in an interview that he approached like a trip to the dentist chair, Lee said it took him “a little while” to get over the disappointment of his final appearance in 2011. A little while? How much time is that? A week? A month? As someone who speaks every day with Phillies fans, I can say with conviction that the fans haven’t yet overcome that disaster.
Lee was asked to explain how a player as pressure-tested as he is could fail to hold that lead. He responded by whining about obscure players like David Freese of St. Louis rising to the occasion, followed by some philosophical mumbo-jumbo about how the hot playoff team sometimes trumps great pitching.
With his trademark shrug, Lee then uttered two words that hurt every bit as much as a Cardinal line drive with the bases loaded.
“That’s baseball,” he said.
Oh, really? An entire season, 102 wins, the best starting rotation in Phillies history reduced to two words. Cliff Lee’s special place in Philadelphia sports is gone, at least to me. The anger of his trade to Seattle the same day the Phils acquired Roy Halladay? Gone. The joy of his decision to spurn the hated Yankees and come back here as a free agent? Gone. It’s all gone.
When Lee pitches this season, I’ll still be rooting just as hard as I ever did because time is running out on this fabulous era, and one championship isn’t enough. But I won’t be rooting for Lee himself. I don’t root for players who come up small in big moments and then shrug it off.
And if he doesn’t like my new attitude, I’ve got two words for him: That’s baseball.
No fourth gear?
When the Sixers resume play tonight in Detroit, the player they can rely on least also happens to be their only All-Star, Andre Iguodala.
Fans who compare Iguodala’s choking in the clutch to Donovan McNabb are being unfair — to McNabb.
I am about to present to you a statistic so damaging that the few remaining Iguodala fans don’t want to you see it. Stories are being written and broadcasters are offering lectures to counteract it, all the while never referencing it. Here it is: In the past seven games, Iguodala has contributed one field goal in the fourth quarter.
That’s right. In 84 minutes, a man earning $13.5 million has scored one basket when the game was on the line. The fact that he has shot the ball only 10 times over that span is damning proof that he does not want the responsibility of a star, just the salary. And keep in mind that he has shrunk from the late-game spotlight at a time when Spencer Hawes and Elton Brand have been sidelined.
Last week, former Sixers GM Ed Stefanski said a team with Iguodala as its second star should make the playoffs, and a club with him as the third-best player has a chance at a title. Of course, Stefanski never bothered to explain why he paid Iguodala like a top star, or $80 million over six years.
It’s time for all of the apologists to log off their computers and snap off their microphones. Andre Iguodala has one basket in the fourth quarter through the past seven games. No words are going to change that. And no words are going to change him, either.
McNabb, the beggar
Fletcher Smith made a call that could have provided one of the most outrageous twists in Philadelphia sports history. You see, Smith represents Donovan McNabb, out of work and desperate for one more chance. Would you believe Smith called the Eagles for employment?
Well, he did. He yanked out his trusty cell phone, ignored all the years of bad passes and bruised egos, and asked if there was any interest in a sequel to the 11-year McNabb era here.
There is no word on whom Smith spoke to. If it was Joe Banner, the call was probably brief. But if Smith reached Andy Reid, is it at least possible that the most loyal man in football gave the idea consideration? The signing of journeyman Trent Edwards last week was hardly a roster coup. Strictly on football terms, McNabb is a better choice.
Of course, McNabb would never allow the decision to be based solely on football, not with his impressive new array of baggage. He has become a morale-sucking presence on every team.
If you think I’m enjoying this latest development in McNabb’s spectacular downfall, well, I plead guilty. I’m not right every day — or every column, for that matter. But I was right about Donovan McNabb.
– Angelo Cataldi is the host of 94 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
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