Boston Celtics

How Cliff Lee made his decision


How Cliff Lee made his decision

By Mary Paoletti

Inside the home of Cliff Lee. December 13, 2010. Lee sits at the kitchen table with his wife Kristen and agent Darek Braunecker.
Braunecker: Hands are tented in front of his face. He rubs the bridge of his nose slowly before speaking. Alright, Cliff. We've been over the numbers one hundred times. Where do you want to play baseball this year?

Lee: Well...

A phone rings. Lee's wife Kristen picks it up. She holds a hand over the mouthpiece and turns to her husband.

Kristen: Honey, it's CC again.

Lee: Sighs Tell him I appreciated the muffin basket but there are a few other things involved in my decision than that. And ask him why all 12 muffins were half-eaten already. Pauses Actually, scratch that last part.

Kristen: Okay. She speaks gently into the phone and hangs it up. Can I just take the damn thing off the hook? It's been ringing non-stop since you shut off your cell and I'm going crazy, babe. Josh sounds drunk and if I have to hear Michael cry again...I just... I can't even.

Lee: Frowns No, not just yet. I think Darek and I are getting close to something here.

Kristen sits back down.

Braunecker: So. Like I said, a deal with New York seems most lucrative. You're looking at 132 million, six years and a 16 million player option...

Kristen: NO.
Braunecker: Kristen, be reasonable.

Kristen: I said no. Folds arms Those people spit on me during the ALCS, Darek.
Braunecker: But...

Kristen: They. Spit. On. Me.... Darek.

The phone rings. Kristen answers it while maintaining her death-glare on Braunecker. She listens for a moment then again covers the receiver.
Kristen: The caller says he's George Steinbrenner. From the grave.

Lee: Yeah, you can go ahead and take the phone off the hook, baby.

Kristen unplugs the phone.

Braunecker: Oookay. Let's talk about Texas. Is Texas out? Are we crossing them off the list?

Lee: Yup. Let's do it.

Braunecker: So there's just New York and Philly left. Paues Listen, Cliff, I know you're leaning toward the Phils but I honestly don't understand why. They shipped you out! They kept Blanton for god's sake.

Lee: Sticks his chin out They tried to get rid of Joe first.

Braunecker: But they didn't. And think of the money, man. You'd have to leave 30 million on the table! Are you really willing to do that for a team that burned you?

Braunecker and Kristen sit in stunned silence. Braunecker slowly tilts his head to the side and furrows his brow. Kristen's mouth opens and closes several times like a clown fish. A solid two minutes pass.

Braunecker: Clears his throat The Flyers suck.

Kristen: Gently He's right, Cliff.

Lee: True. Pauses But my mind is made up. I'm signing with Philadelphia. You know why? Because, with my help, the Phils can put together the best starting rotation in the history of America: Halladay, Oswalt, Hamels, Lee... and some other guy. And the clincher? Cheesesteaks. I freaking love cheesesteaks.

Kristen jumps up and hugs her husband. Braunecker leans back in his chair, defeated and confused.

Lee: Braunecker, call Cashman and tell him to go to hell. Kristen, plug that phone back in. I need to call Jon Daniels to say thank you and goodbye. And baby, call Hamilton's wife and tell her to put him on lockdown. Might get ugly over there.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.