With the Texas Rangers’ pennant-clinching celebration raging around him, Cliff Lee stood apart from the crowd with son Jaxon in his arms. A little more than 300 miles away from the Lee household in Benton, Ark., father and son looked very much at home.
Aside from Lee’s start in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday, pending free agency is the No. 2 storyline in his pitching career. And it sure seemed like the Rangers improved their chances of re-signing him with their victory over the New York Yankees on Friday night.
As Lee spoke with reporters, the Rangers Ballpark sound system piped out an ironic selection: “Nowhere But Texas,” by the Steve Helms Band.
Either way, Lee answered in the affirmative when asked if a World Series victory for Texas would make him more likely to return.
“I would like to hope so,” he said. “But I’m not too worried about that kind of stuff right now. I’m worried about trying to get that ring. That’s the ultimate. Free agency and that stuff is going to take care of itself later. Right now, we want to be standing in the end with the trophy.”
He added later: “I hope we win the whole thing. I love this situation I’m in. I love this team. I love my teammates. It’s been a fun ride. It’s been an unbelievable experience.”
The story of Lee, the Rangers and the Yankees started long before the American League Championship Series. And it won’t end anytime soon.
The Yankees came close to acquiring the left-hander from Seattle in July. The Rangers struck the deal instead. Then Lee won Game 3 of the ALCS — at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees will make a strong bid to sign Lee this winter. But the Rangers, under new ownership, are prepared to do what it takes to keep him.
“We have everything in place you need to build the kind of organization that can compete, year in and year out,” Chuck Greenberg, the team’s managing partner, said Friday night. “We’ve got very deep resources. We’ve got a burning will to win. If you’re a player, what better place to be than with the Texas Rangers right now?”
Asked if the Rangers’ chances of re-signing Lee were better after Friday’s win, Greenberg smiled and said, “Success breeds success.”
If the Rangers and Yankees offer similar contracts, Lee could be swayed by the appeal of pitching close to home. Dallas is one hour from Little Rock by plane.
“It’s the closest to home I’ve ever played,” Lee said Friday. “I live in Arkansas. This is great for my family, to be this close to home.”
Lee said fan allegiance in his home state tends to be split between the Rangers and St. Louis Cardinals.
He added: “I would like to think there were a lot of Arkansans watching this game. Hopefully we can make them proud and bring home the World Series championship.”
Before Lee addresses his free-agent future, he could encounter a team that was prominent in his recent past — the Philadelphia Phillies.
One year and one day before the Rangers’ triumph, Lee celebrated a National League pennant in Philadelphia. He was the bedrock of the Phillies’ rotation throughout the postseason and earned two wins in the World Series. But the Phillies, believing their chances of signing Lee to an extension were slim, dealt him to Seattle during the offseason.
Now there is a possibility that Lee will encounter Philadelphia in the World Series. The Phillies, facing elimination, will host the San Francisco Giants on Saturday night in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (MLB on FOX, 7:30 p.m. ET).
Philadelphia must beat San Francisco twice in order to set up a meeting with Lee in Game 1 of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park.
“I don’t care who we play,” Lee said. “They’re very capable of winning two more games there. If they do, yeah, I’d love to face them. But if it’s not them, I’d love to face the Giants, too. I’m not out for blood, or out to prove something against anybody, or anything like that. I just want to help this team win.
“What’s happened in the past is in the past. I’m not trying to rub anything in. I enjoyed my time there. It was a lot of fun. Great guys over there. I wish them nothing but the best, but if we’re facing them, obviously I’m going to try to beat them.”
No matter the NL champion, it will be impossible to ignore Cliff Lee. The same man has loomed over the ALCS, NLCS, World Series and offseason — all at the same time.