Phillies Fans: Bring on the World’s Envy

Savor the success of this team; times like this don't come around too often

Tuesday night’s Phillies win over the Boston Red Sox was a capsule of why I love baseball. It was the perfect game without being a Perfect Game. Cliff Lee pitched a masterpiece. There were two long home runs. A couple of great defensive plays. Great fundamental hitting with moving runners and sacrifice bunting. And an overflow crowd that was juiced up, knowing that the game might very well be a World Series preview.

After Lee threw his third-straight complete game shutout—and extended his scoreless inning streak to 32—I started to think about how wonderful it is right now to be a Phillies fan. With Lee, and Roy Halladay, and Cole Hamels, we can boast having something that is the best in the game. And how many times can we say that about anything involving Philadelphia sports?

Think about it. How often have we been the envy of the sports world, where everyone pays attention to us?

Maybe a handful of times.

I was a kid when the 76ers signed Julius Erving on the heels of the signing of George McGinnis. Two superstars from the ABA who were the anchors of the building of a super team. Steve Carlton won 27 games on season. The basketball team subsequently would become the best in the sport in 1983, when Harold Katz broke down and signed Moses Malone to join Doc to assure the Sixers would finally win an NBA title. And that team would go down in history as perhaps the best NBA team ever assembled. There was the Flyers in the mid-1970s winning two Stanley Cups, and the team in 1981 that went 35 games without being beaten. And then there was Randall Cunningham being placed on the cover of Sports Illustrated as the “Ultimate Weapon.” And then maybe Reggie White as the best defensive tackle who ever played. And then Allen Iverson, the best under-six-foot guard to ever play.

But it doesn’t happen that often.

Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels all have a chance to win 20 games this season. In today’s game, that’s almost impossible. At the very least, they all have a chance to be named to this year’s all-star team, and one of them most likely will start the game.

These are incredible times.

Lee beating the Red Sox set in motion an array of statistics that are mind boggling. Courtesy of my good friend Jayson Stark, ESPN’s preeminent baseball reporter, the facts are these:

• Lee has only given up one run in his last 42 innings. Since Orel Hershiser threw 55 scoreless innings in September 1988, no pitcher in the major leagues has had the kind of streak Lee is currently on. (Hershiser would go on to throw 59 straight scoreless innings as the streak continued into the next season, which means that Lee needs three straight complete game shutouts to tie that mark.)
• Lee has driven in more runs this month (two) than he has given up as a pitcher. His ERA for the month is 0.21. Of the seven National League starting pitchers (since 1912) to have an ERA of that or better, only two pitchers have had more RBIs than runs given up: Dwight Gooden in 1985 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
• Lee has held the opponent in June to a collective .152 batting average.
• Lee has won more games (five) than the entire Marlins team this month.
• Hershiser threw five straight shutouts in 1988. Since then, Lee is only the sixth pitcher to have three in a row. Only one of the other five was lefthanded: Randy Johnson.

For at least this week, forget about what the Phillies can’t do and appreciate what they can. These SOBs can pitch! Some teams, like the 2007 and 2008 Phillies, won games by out-bashing the other team. So the script has been flipped. This team just dominated the opposition with their starting pitching. It’s the difference between getting your thrills at the amusement park—which would be when your team hits—or at the art museum. Sometimes, the art museum is a lot more satisfying.

Listen to MIKE MISSANELLI weekday afternoons on 97.5 The Fanatic.