No. 5: Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee

Cliff Lee was lights out for most of the 2011 season. (Ron Cortes/Staff File Photo)
Cliff Lee was lights out for most of the 2011 season. (Ron Cortes/Staff File Photo)
Posted: December 25, 2011

It was Cliff Lee's singular misfortune to return to Philadelphia and pitch historically well in the same year that four other men happened to capture the town's attention.

Claude Giroux became the ebullient face of the Flyers. LeSean McCoy channeled idol Ricky Watters and carried the Eagles. Doug Collins resurrected the Sixers in a great basketball town. And, of course, Roy Halladay secured his place as his generation's best pitcher.

Lee's wintertime decision to decline what perhaps would have been a better offer from the villainous Yankees made him an instant hero in Philadelphia, where fans swelled with pride and, for a moment, felt that ever-present chip rise a bit from their collective shoulder.

Lee's two runs of untouchable pitching validated the obscene, 5-year, $120 million contract the Phillies gave him. He went 10-0 in 10 starts in June and August, during which he allowed a total of three runs.

Still, Lee's confounding loss in Game 2 of the NLDS will haunt the memory of his 2011. Lee surrendered a 4-0 lead; the Cardinals evened the series. The Phillies then won Game 3, which would have meant a sweep - of the team that went on to win the World Series.

Lee led the majors with six shutouts, the most in 13 years. He was 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA; only once, in 2008, did he pitch better, and he won the AL Cy Young Award that season. His 238 strikeouts were third in the majors and a mind-boggling 53 more than he managed in any of his nine other seasons. He logged a career-high 232 2/3 innings, too, plus six more in the Division Series.

But he might best be remembered for the last 2 2/3 innings he pitched, when a 4-0 lead became a 5-4 loss, and, fairly or not, Cliff Lee became a postseason goat.

- Marcus Hayes

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