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October 27, 2010

On the Beat

Back for More

by John Perrotto

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It is the same thing but a different year for Cliff Lee. He is back in the World Series, starting Game One for a team that acquired at midseason with the hopes he could take them to a championship as a potential hired gun.

The left-hander pitched for the Phillies last October and notched both their victories as they lost to the Yankees in six games while failing in their bid to win back-to-back World Series. The Phillies traded four prospects to the Indians to acquire Lee last July.

This year, Lee is pitching for the Rangers and will start the World Series opener against the Giants and Tim Lincecum tonight at AT&T Park. The Rangers traded four players to the Mariners in July to acquire Lee, who was traded by the Phillies to Seattle last December. The Rangers, making the first World Series appearance in their 50-season history, hope Lee can make a difference in a series that looks relatively even.

The Rangers could have won the American League West without Lee. They were 5 ½ games ahead when the trade was made on July 9 and ended up winning by nine games. Lee added just 1.6 SNLVAR in 15 regular-season starts. However, he has been the winning pitcher in three of the Rangers' seven post-season victories, beating the Rays twice in the ALDS and the Yankees in his lone ALCS outing while allowing two runs in 24 innings with 34 strikeouts and only one walk.

"The trade proved to my club that Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels were intent on helping us any way they could," manager Ron Washington said, referring to Rangers' club president and general manager. "We had a young pitching staff and we certainly needed a No. 1 guy that could lead us and I think everybody in baseball knows Cliff Lee is one of those types of guys. When we got him, it certainly helped push the rest of our guys into a position where they can be successful, and in the game of baseball that's what you want to do with players. It gave us a lead horse, and to put something in front of that horse, he's a thoroughbred. He made a big difference."

Lee pitched in the postseason for the first time last season, making five starts for the Phillies and going 4-0 while allowing seven runs in 40 1/3 innings with 33 strikeouts and six walks. Add it all up and Lee now has a 7-0 record with a 1.26 ERA in eight post-season starts while striking out 67 and walking seven for a strikeout/walk ratio of 9.55. Lee, though, says he has no particular magic formula for his October success, attributing it to a convergence of positive factors.

"It's confidence, relying on my routine, playing on a really good team, having a really good offense to lean on, (catcher) Bengie Molina," Lee said. "Those are a lot of the reasons. But I think mostly it's probably just confidence and going out there and expecting to be successful, and what allows me to do that is my routine. I've proven to myself over and over that it works, and eventually it becomes what you rely on to make you successful, and that's where I'm at."

Lee won't divulge his routine, saying it's a trade secret. However, there seems little doubt that it is going to allow him to become a very rich man in the near future as he becomes eligible to file for free agency five days after the World Series ends.

The Yankees have been considered the favorites to land Lee all along with a contract similar to the seven years and $161 million they gave his former Indians rotation mate CC Sabathia in the 2008-09 offseason. After losing to the Rangers in the ALCS, the Yankees are likely to bid even higher for Lee, though Texas CEO Chuck Greenberg says his team will do everything in its power to retain its ace.

That led someone to ask Lee during Tuesday's World Series media day at AT&T Park if the Yankees might have lost some ground in the potential bidding after some family members of some of the Rangers, including his wife, said they were treated harshly by the fans at Yankee Stadium during the ALCS. Lee laughed that possibility off.

"No, I don't know the guy who did it," Lee said. "It could be anyone. Who knows? Who cares? They're at home right now."

In a serious vein, Lee did say, "I brush that off as fans being fans. You can't control 50,000 people and what they're going to do. There were some people that were spitting off the balcony on the family section and things like that, and that's kind of weak, but what can you do? Some people get a little alcohol in them and act inappropriate. There's always going to be a couple goofballs in the crowd that think they have a right to do that stuff. But it is what it is."

Phillies fans can be notorious tough as well. During the 2008 World Series at Citizens Bank Park, some went as far as to throw condiment packages at the granddaughter of Rays manager Joe Maddon. It would have been interesting to see what kind of reception Lee would have received from the Phillies fans in the World Series and he admitted to having mixed emotions about the outcome of the NLCS.

"I pulled for a lot of those guys, but it's weird, when a team gets rid of you, you kind of like seeing them lose a little bit," Lee said. "I know that's weird but part of me wanted them to win where I could face them in the World Series, too. It would have been a lot of fun. You'd like to think that they need you to win type of stuff, when that's really not the case. When a team gets rid of you, it's funny how you have a knack for stepping up a little more when you face them. There's a little more incentive to beat them, and that's definitely the case with me watching the game. I was in between. I didn't want to have to face them or want to have to face the Giants. I let that series play out, and I pulled for those guys individually, but I didn't mind seeing (the Phillies) get beat, either."

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No one has a perspective on this World Series like Molina. He was acquired from the Giants on July 1 in a trade that cleared the way for San Francisco to make rookie Buster Posey their top catcher. Thus, Molina spent almost exactly half of the season with both Fall Classic participants.

"I was glad the Giants won and I'm so excited about playing them," Molina said. "A lot of those guys on that team are like my brothers."

Lincecum caught most of Molina's starts during his National League Cy Young award seasons in 2008 and 2009 and gives his former batterymate plenty of credit.

"He's been half of the reason why I got there outside of my day and my family and my other teammates," Lincecum said. "He's the one calling the pitches. He always seemed to hit that game-leading home run to put us ahead when I was pitching. We had a pretty good connection there and we still keep in touch away from ball. He's meant a lot to me and he's meant a lot to this team. He's a part of the reason why we're here and obviously part of the reason why they're here, too."

Molina obviously has a fondness for Lincecum, too. When Lincecum lost all five starts in August this season, Molina sent him a text message with encouragement.

"He was just reaffirming in me that I should just be confident, don't forget what I've done, and just keep remembering that because I'm still the same pitcher," Lincecum said. "He is just a very emotional person, so I'll just leave (what he said) aside. He's just always pulling for me regardless of what was going on, whether I was doing well or not."

Molina, who says he leaning toward retirement after the Series, is the first player to appear for both World Series teams in the same season and be on the Series roster since Lonnie Smith was traded from the Cardinals to the Royals in 1985.

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Following Lincecum in the Giants' rotation will be Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, and Madison Bumgarner. All were Giants' draft picks, as Cain (2002), Lincecum (2006), and Bumgarner (2007) were first-rounders, and Sanchez was selected in the 27th round in 2004.

That gives Giants the first homegrown rotation in a World Series since the 1986 Red Sox started Bruce Hurst, Roger Clemens, Oil Can Boyd, and Al Nipper in their seven-game loss to the Mets.

"Everyone knows we're kind of built around pitching and just more pitching on top of that," Lincecum said. "We built the starting rotation around guys that like myself and Cain who came up through the system and just understood it. Guys like Bumgarner, a 20-year-old out there, throwing in a National League Championship Series like he's done it before. That just speaks with specificity right there how mature he is and how he can handle himself, and given the opportunity guys can flourish and do great things."

---

The Padres' Bud Black is no longer the only former pitching coach who is currently a major-league manager. John Farrell makes it a two-man club as he takes over as the Blue Jays' manager following a stint as the Red Sox's pitching coach that included winning a World Series ring in 2007.

Ironically, Black and Farrell were teammates with the Indians from 1988-90. Black told the Toronto Sun's Bob Elliott that he isn't surprised that Farrell is getting a chance to manage.

"Of all the managerial candidates, I thought he'd emerge with a job," Black said. "Once he got back into pro ball running the Indians' (farm) system, I figured some day he would be a manager or a GM. John has a great background in a lot of areas. I see a man with great leadership qualities."

Black said, like any coach making the step up to manager, Farrell will quickly realize that things are different when you are in charge of the entire team rather than just one area.

"When you are a coach, you come to the park, you do your work and go home," Black said. "As a manager, it's 24 hours of being on call. The switch is never off. The GM is calling you in the morning. The trainer is calling you at noon. That's the biggest difference for me. You're in and you're all in."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Major League Baseball Players Association plans to push for an expanded postseason in the next round of contract negotiations with owners following the 2011 season, looking to add one wild card in each league. … The Phillies say they will try to retain right fielder Jayson Werth as a free agent, and though the Red Sox and Angels appear to be the favorites to sign him, the Cubs are also expected to get involved and the Yankees might, too, if they trade right fielder Nick Swisher for pitching help. … The Yankees are likely to promote bullpen coach Mike Harkey, a close friend of manager Joe Girardi, to replace fired pitching coach Dave Eiland. Girardi, meanwhile, is expected to sign a three-year contract that would take him through the 2013 season. … The Yankees are giving serious consideration to making top prospect Jesus Montero their starting catcher next season and moving Jorge Posada to designated hitter. … While former Athletics pitching coach Curt Young is likely to replace Farrell, the Red Sox will also consider their Double-A pitching coach, Rich Sauveur, for the vacancy. … The Rockies are likely to decline Miguel Olivo's $2.6 million club option for 2011 and go with Chris Iannetta as their starting catcher. … The Mets have decided not to pursue Daniels for their GM vacancy and will instead choose between MLB official Sandy Alderson and former Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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