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Cliff Lee ( 1978 - )  Category ( Sports_Figures ) [suggest a correction]

Cliff LeeTypically, Cliff Lee's entry into major league baseball was on his terms.

Twice he was drafted -- once out of high school in the Little Rock suburb of Benton, AK, once out of Meridian Community College in Mississippi. Both times, like a pitcher shaking off signs from his catcher, he told the teams (first Florida, then Baltimore) "No thanks."

Finally, after a stint at the University of Arkansas, Lee said yes to the Montreal Expos in 2000. After several successful minor league seasons, he made it to the major leagues in 2004 (after he was traded to Cleveland along with Grady Sizemore and two lesser players for pitchers Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew) and reeled off seasons of 14-8, 18-5 and 14-11.

It seemed only a matter of time before Lee took his place as one of the top pitchers in baseball. Then came his 2007 season, which began with an injury in spring training and spiraled downward from there.

In May, he had a 4-9 record and a 5.38 ERA. In late July, he gave up nine runs in four innings in one game and was roundly booed by the Cleveland fans at Jacobs Field. As he left the mound, Lee tipped his hat to them. The next day, he was sent down to Triple A Buffalo, there to languish until September.

Nevertheless, Lee took it in stride.

"I wasn't upset at anyone," he said in a 2008 interview. "Their concern was not whether they're making me happy, it was trying to get to the postseason and winning a World Series, as it should be. I was not getting the results I expected out of myself. You can look at the stats. They were black and white."

So were his numbers in 2008, when Lee was 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA and won the American League's Cy Young Award.

Unfortunately, his turnaround failed to energize the Indians, who had a lackluster season. And halfway through the 2009 campaign, Lee was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies along with outfielder Ben Francisco for four minor leaguers.

By then, following a slow start, he was already beginning to pitch very well. That continued into the post-season, when Lee became the first pitcher ever to post back-to-back games with double digit strikouts (10 against both the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees) and no walks.

At 6-3, 190 pounds, Lee is more crafty than dominating. He not only has a good (in now overpowering) fastball, but he throws it three different ways to go along with a sharp curve and a deceptive changeup that left Yankee star Alex Rodrieguez looking foolish in three different trips to the plate.

"It helps to be unpredictable," Lee said.

He and his wife Kristin have been active in community charitable endeavors in both Cleveland and Philadelphia. Since their son Jason is a survivor of childhood leukemia, they are especially interested in causes involving that disease.

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