Lee was Lee: Phillies 4, Nationals 1

[FP. I usually just worry about getting the score right. RtP.]

This recap is inspired by and dedicated to the indefatigable and inimitable j reed. All the links, then, should be pretty obvious in their intent, though it might be worth noting that speakers ought to be on to get the full effect.

Given my inspiration, it makes some sense to start with a musical urban legend, likely untrue on every conceivable level. When I was young and growing up in the northern-ish sections of the Lehigh Valley – where there are limited activities, to say the least – I spent a lot of my time getting deep into punk rock, post rock, and metal music. When I say metal, too, I should be clear that this serves as a kind of catch all: death, black, stoner, thrash, whatever. But black metal, for whatever reason always had the best myths, with one of the very best concerning the seminal Norwegian black metal band Mayhem. Mayhem is somewhat notorious and controversial for the timbre of their stories, as a brief sampling of their more noteworthy members. If you clicked the last link, you’ll notice that part of Mayhem’s legend is the self-inflicted death of their frontman and lyricist Per Yngve Ohlin, otherwise known as “Dead.” There’s nothing entertaining or edifying about self-harm or suicide, so let’s get the unclever, tragic aspect of this story out of the way first: Dead killed himself with a self-inflicted gun-shot wound to the head, marking one of the more senseless and lurid tragedies (no small thing) of the black metal scene.

Of course, as a teenager, this kind of high-flung sense of self and almost larger-than-life type of tragedy, paired with music that I purportedly listened to (Mayhem isn’t…listenable as you or I would define the word) was powerfully gripping. Also gripping was the legend of Dead’s suicide note: as a friend of mine told me, the note was a simple punned statement – “Dead is dead.” Now, let me be clear, that’s probably not what he wrote – I’ve found nothing to corroborate it, and the self-aggrandizing nature of his roommate, Mayhem’s Euronymous, means that anything cute or clever about this tragedy is likely best to be ignored as non-factual. Still, there’s something oddly captivating about a nutshell statement like that, and that’s because “Dead is dead” is what one would call a tautology. A tautology is essentially a repetition of sorts, wherein information is presented in a redundant or repetitive fashion. In this case, if we assume that the first “Dead” in the statement refers to the person, the second instance of the word carries with it the suggestion of tautology as it represents a homophonic repetition – the words repeat in literal structure; if we assume that the first “Dead” refers to the condition of death, the second instance of the word is, of course, repetitive conceptually. Either way, there is an eerie sense of significance in the nature of the overlaid similarities of the words and ideas. In short, it’s a lot of significance in a little package.

How, you may reasonably ask, does this tie back into baseball? If you’ve read anything I’ve written thus far, it won’t surprise you that it relates back by way of terminology – I told you that story about tautology so I could tell you this one. Just as with “Dead is dead,” “Lee was Lee” – how I originally thought to describe Cliff Lee’s performance this game – represents a sort of identical tautological problem for the typical Phillies fan. If the punned urban legend of a metal front-man’s suicide note represents a kind of philosophical distinction between the repeated and the significant, then how much more loaded is the tautology behind Lee (the player) being Lee (the performance)? And unless you’re too uptight, I think we can have a lot of fun together figuring it out after the jump.

So, let’s focus on the pure results to begin with. Lee pitched a gem today, going seven innings, striking out 5, walking none (natch), and giving up 1 measly earned run. He did allow a somewhat high 7 hits, but we’ll forgive him for some of the dinks and dunks, and even for some of the hard hit balls. Case in point: the monstrous out of Adam LaRoche in the top of the 7th. The ball, which came after a woefully misplayed-dribbler-turned-double off the bat of designated Phillies Black Hat Jayson Werth, looked for all the world to be a home run but was called otherwise, leading to a confused LaRoche being called out at Third for occupying the same bag as Werth. After review, it was found that the ball caromed off the top of the fence, literally bouncing into play from the razor’s edge – thank you BABIP. The official line on that particular 2 run Home Run turned out? "Adam LaRoche out at 3rd on the throw, center fielder John Mayberry to catcher Erik Kratz to shortstop Jimmy Rollins" (h/t Bud from TN). Okay, this time we can say it without philosophical cavil: LOLNats. Beyond that hiccup, the game always kind of felt secure to me, but your mileage and paranoia may vary. And while there was one run less pressure on the bullpen than last night, Jeremy Horst and, especially, Josh Lindblom acquitted themselves admirably, with the latter pitcher going 1.2 innings with 0 hits, 0 walks, and 3 K’s, earning the save. That’ll do, Lindblom. That’ll do.

On the opposite end of things, Jordan Zimmermann (actual alternative concept for this post: punning off of his name to discuss the politics of Giorgio Agamben’s Muselmann. Next time, promise!) was not sharp tonight, despite his being a usually reliable starter. The Phillies had a decent approach with him, as he only struck out three, while walking three and allowing a home run to Jimmy Rollins among his five hits and 3 earned runs. The tale of that homer is basically the tale of the game, as it succeeded a loooong Cliff Lee RBI double scored Kevin Frandsen, the very first run of the game. Putting the team on his back! Again, after the Rollins HR, it felt like the game was in hand, even with the LaRoche HR drama, but the Phillies are far less lazy (or less positive) than I am, and scored another run off mop-up man Tom Gorzellany, a homer off the bat of Laynce Nix. Notable: Nix looked horrid on the first two strikes of this at bat, before hitting a seemingly effortless home run – it was a joy. Also: apparently, per Matt Gelb by way of Justin F, this was Nix’ first home run off of a lefty since 2004. Remember 2004? This guy ran for office in 2004.

Anyway, the long and short of the game is that it was something of a Platonic Phillies’ win: great pitching, good hitting, and Bryce Harper falling down after hustling himself out of his shoes. Not that I hold anything against him. Never. In a certain way, I could reuse my recap from two days ago: these kinds of games still do feel best in contrast to other, less pleasant ones. But I thought that we might try to explain how this game felt better by recourse to our fan-drawn tautology: again, as a reminder, "Lee was Lee." A Hegelian or Marxist tradition would be quick to point out that, behind the form of appearance of such a simple phrase as "Lee was Lee tonight" lies a teeming mass of contradictions and suppositions, naturalized by a baseball truism: "when star athletes are themselves, good things happen." But what else are we but ourselves? What could Cliff Lee be other than Cliff Lee? The answer is, I’m afraid, tautological: Lee could be no one but Lee, just as Dead could be nothing but dead. And as this second tautology robs the story of Mayhem of its legendary significance – it is simply a tragedy, not a catalyst – it adds something to the mythos of Cliff Lee. We have watched Lee struggle this year, wondering if his hittability was predictable in some way, or perhaps the new normal, or some sign of declining skills. And we have been tempted to call a start like this – no walks, impeccable presence, and a resounding hit – as a sign that the "real" Lee has returned. For if there is a conceptual difference between the "Lee"s in our tautology, it is that the first "Lee," however implicitly, represents the starter we have been frustrated by this year, while the second "Lee" represents the ideality of Cliff Lee – the "whatever" catch from the 2009 World Series enshrined and repeated again, and again, and again. Written without the hidden assumptions the tautology hides, then, "Lee was Lee" might read "Lee [who we have been underwhelmed by] was [the] Lee [we expected]."

This is not to beat a dead horse, but we must keep in mind that the Lee we expect is as much as fiction as the bum we all heard about on WIP and the Fanatic back when he was claimed by the Dodgers, or before, when he was so much Mike Olt fodder. Lee was incredible tonight, but incredible Lee is always the Lee that has the chance to falter and fall apart so maddeningly, as well. The reinscription here is important: "Lee is Lee" becomes a more powerful phrase every time Lee pitches, as each start creates a kind of stereoscopic image in our mind, overlaid and repeated into a kind of vast collection of what Lee is. The multiplicity of Lee’s efforts will, paradoxically, become the singularity of his accomplishment, and it is at once important to recognize the humanity of that accomplishment at the same time as we recognize the supra-humanness of the field of work that Lee has given us. The disappointment of black metal is, of course, that "Dead is dead" is a tautology that does not engender contradiction or progression: indeed, death is an end stop, and the progression of black metal has either reckoned with that or stagnated. The "Lee is Lee" tautology can be two-toned, however: either the dismissive or Negadelphian version we’ve explicated above, or the far more ambiguous and celebratory version that is hidden behind that version. "Lee [the pitcher] is [always] Lee [the career]" or, more succinctly, "Lee is [always] Lee." Good or bad, but mostly good, the man is the man, and that, not his clutch or his heart or his composure, is what makes him a player that we can tell our children about in the future. And unlike the end stop of death, the conceptual apparatus of legacy is continuous and self-sustaining – one of the reasons that we can root for more than just laundry.

At the very least, we can say that Lee’s made a mark, tautological or otherwise, on the people and players of DC. Thanks for that, Cliff.