Cliff Lee's next turn comes on June 29th, in New York. After that, it's July 4th, in Detroit. After that, it's July 9th, in Seattle.
Rumor has it that theare taking calls, and that Lee negotiations could move quickly. Which makes sense, in that Lee isn't a marginal upgrade, but rather a supermassive grail of an upgrade for whom every single start means a probable win. Contenders have a vested interest in landing Lee as quickly as possible, because every additional start he gets could mean an additional game in the standings.
Which means we might've just seen Cliff Lee's final start in Seattle.
What a start it was.
I'll write my goodbye letter when I have to. I'm certainly in no hurry, as I'd like to savor all this for as long as I can. While I know a Cliff Lee trade is in this organization's best interests, it's still an occasion I'll meet with grief and despair, because what we've seen from Cliff Lee through 11 starts is unlike anything we've ever seen from any other starter. His blend of tempo, command, and confidence is unmatched, and every game, every at bat is a blessing. Cliff Lee isn't just a pitcher. He's what we want every pitcher to become.
Still, if this was truly Lee's last start at Safeco Field, it was a start that showed off the whole package.
- Control. As noted in the post below this one, Lee threw 90 strikes out of 115 pitches, and according to Todd Dybas, he went 0-2 on an unfathomable 19 of the 34 batters he faced.
- Unhittability. The Derrek Lee, Xavier Nady, and Starlin Castro in the sixth and seventh. took 76 swings, whiffing on 17 of them and hitting fouls on another 34. When Lee needed a strikeout, he came up with one, as he did against
Unflappability. Lee bounced back from Tyler Colvin's home run with a three-pitch strikeout, and when the Cubs had a runner in scoring position, they went 1-7 with a double play and four whiffs.
- Endurance. Again, Lee threw 115 pitches in throwing his second consecutive complete game, and third in four starts. At no point did it feel like he was tiring.
- Enjoyment. Cliff Lee is always smiling. We've said it a million times before. He's always smiling. It doesn't matter where he is, or what he's doing. He's always in a good mood, and after the final whiff, he was beaming left and right.
- Pace. An 8-1 ballgame was over in two hours and 28 minutes. Lee was impatient when batters stepped out of the box. He darted out onto the field for every upper half. One time, following a strikeout to end an inning, I went to my Excel sheet to enter it into my table, and when I looked up again, Lee was already in the dugout drinking water. Cliff Lee isn't a man that wastes a lot of time. He knows exactly what he wants to do in every situation, and more often than not, he does it.
Part of me hopes that this is Lee's final start as a Mariner, so we can see what we get and move ahead with trying to build a champion. And a big part - perhaps a bigger part - hopes that it isn't. A big part hopes that this never ends, that he never goes away. Because Cliff Lee is all I've ever wanted in a pitcher, and I don't think I could ever prepare myself to bid him farewell. This was supposed to last longer. We were supposed to do more.
I love Cliff Lee. I love him. And if this really was his last game in Seattle, he certainly went out with a bang, and I can only hope he heard us. I hope he heard us cheer.
Gonna fly through these, as I'm sleepy:
- Starlin Castro is 20 years old. He came in with all of 162 plate appearances in the bigs, zero in AAA, and 243 in AA. Tonight, Lou Piniella asked him to face Cliff Lee. He struck out three times on ten pitches - once on a change, once on a cutter, and once on a curve that dropped from his eyes to the middle of the zone. Dick Wolf is writing a Law & Order: SVU episode about Starlin Castro's self-confidence.
- Cliff Lee is one of those guys that makes you wish baseball had another level. Something above the Majors. It would feature a lot of Lee, and a lot of Roy Halladay, and a lot of Adrian Gonzalez, and a lot of Ichiro, and way less Pedro Feliz. They could call it the Supermajor League. Or the Brigadier League. They could wear awesome tricorne hats.
- Last night, Lenny Wilkens came up to the booth and talked to Dave Sims for half an inning. Tonight, Nicholas Turturro came up to the booth with his kid and talked to Dave Sims for half an inning. I have nothing against Lenny Wilkens or whoever Nicholas Turturro is, but I didn't realize Bring Your Friends To Work Day was two days long. Nor did I realize it exists.
- I wonder if Jose Lopez even bothers running when he hits a fly ball to right or center field. He probably shouldn't.
- Speaking of Jose Lopez, he's now gone two weeks since drawing his last walk, and his walk rate is right on his career average at 3.4%. Setting goals is only good when you have any intent of following through with them. This one sounded crazy from the beginning. It's now officially a punchline.
- Since with some people we have no choice but to celebrate the little things, Casey Kotchman did a fine job in the fourth inning of reaching out and poking an outside changeup over Castro's head and into left field for an RBI single. That low and away change is a pitch that a lot of guys pound into the ground, but Kotchman of all people managed to get it some lift. It was hardly an impressive swing of the bat, but with the bases loaded and only one down, it could've gone a lot worse.
- A Michael Saunders comparison:
Year BB% K% Contact% BA OPS 2009 4.7% 31.0% 72.5% 0.221 0.537 2010 8.2% 28.9% 73.3% 0.225 0.727
Saunders' approach isn't visibly much better. He's still swinging through a lot of pitches. He still isn't showing much of an eye, as despite the higher walk rate, he's chased more balls out of the zone. But look at those last two columns. In 2010, the power has shown up. He's already got nine extra-base hits and five homers, to last year's four and zero, and the result is that he's actually been a halfway productive hitter.
Tonight, Saunders drew a four-pitch walk with the bases loaded, ripped a high-inside fastball from Randy Wells into right for a double, and then in the eighth, in what must have been a huge confidence boost, he got under an 0-1 curve from southpaw Sean Marshall and drilled it just over the fence in right-center. It was definitely more fly ball than line drive. It was Saunders' first career Major League home run against a lefty, and Marshall's not a bad lefty.
Saunders hasn't been the picture of consistency, and he may always be streaky, but he's now one back of the team lead in home runs despite having taken just 97 trips to the plate. It's great to see him bounce back after what last season must've done to his psyche. Though he's not all the way there, it is definitely far, far easier to see Saunders as a long-term everyday player now than it was last September. He's taken steps forward, and with one or two more, he will have arrived. I guess this means it's time to trade him for Paul Spoljaric.