Phillies roll out dynamic rotation
World Series the goal for Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, Hamels, Blanton
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The curtain went up Monday on The Rotation: Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton.
In 50-plus years of covering Major League Baseball, I've never seen anything to equal what unfolded at Bright House Field -- the Phillies' swanky Spring Training home -- on a warm, sunny afternoon.
The Phillies rolled out what graybeards are calling the best starting rotation in the last 30 years, maybe one of the best ever. The return of Lee to join with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels makes the top four aces as good as it gets.
Workhorse Joe Blanton, once a No. 1 with Oakland, is the fifth starter. It would have been an insult to leave him off the dais.
"Hopefully, the [opposing team's] lineup falls asleep and thinks they have to face these four guys, and I'll just kind of slip right in," Blanton dead-panned. "It's great to be part of it."
Nearly 100 members of the media turned out for the unveiling. The event -- and that's what it was -- was televised live. As superlatives and predictions flowed, the thought occurred to me that this moment should be etched in everyone's memory.
It will be interesting, if not amusing, to flash back to Valentine's Day 2011 in October, and see how legitimate all this hype and anticipation is.
The pitchers said mostly all the right things, but Halladay uttered some words that might get lost. To me, however, they had enormous impact.
"A big part of it for me is not having the best pitching staff in history, but having the best chance to get to the postseason and get to the World Series," he said. "To be on a team that has that chance is what every player wants."
Let's face it. If the Phillies don't get to the World Series, the season will be a disappointment -- if not a disaster.
The Phillies are favored just about everywhere to win their fifth consecutive National League East title under manager Charlie Manuel -- and, yes, meet the re-tooled Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
"Obviously, that is the ultimate goal," said Lee, who revealed after negotiating as a free agent with Texas and the Yankees that he instructed his agent to contact the Phillies. "The first thing you've got to do is get there. We've got to play 162 games to get to the postseason. Once you're in the postseason, yeah, you've got to win the last game to do the ultimate."
Lee talked about focus, preparation and the hard work it takes to reach that ultimate goal.
"But if we're saying right now [that] we're going to win the World Series, that's kind of getting the cart ahead of the horse," said Lee. "There's a lot of things that can happen between now and then. So we need to focus on today, and tomorrow focus on tomorrow."
Halladay, Lee and Oswalt have never been on a World Series winner. Hamels and Blanton got the coveted ring as members of the 2008 Phillies.
Somebody asked, "How do you think the eight guys behind you are going to measure up to the expectations that you've given to what this team can be?"
Good question. The pitching can be "the best in 30 years," but can only do so much.
"I hope they prepare, and come in and do everything they need to do to prepare," Lee said. "If they do that, our talent should play out."
In 1971, the Baltimore Orioles had one of the greatest rotations ever, with four 20-game winners, but lost the World Series to Pittsburgh in seven games.
If the Phillies' rotation doesn't have four 20-game winners this season, I don't see how it can be rated better than Baltimore's '71 group. Of course, if the Phillies win the World Series, my reasoning is open for debate.
Until now, there certainly hasn't been a better rotation since Atlanta's 1998 staff, which consisted of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Denny Neagle.
Lee watched the Braves on TBS growing up in Arkansas. He said that was the best rotation he can remember.
"We haven't thrown a single pitch yet as a group," Lee said. "So, it's kind of early to say we're one of the best rotations in the history of the game.
"Obviously, we're a very talented group, and there is potential for all of that. But it's just that, it's potential."
Between them, Halladay, Lee, Oswalt and Hamels have 10 top-five finishes in Cy Young voting, three Cy Young Awards, 13 All-Star selections, six 20-win seasons, three postseason MVP awards, and a 20-8 postseason record. In 2010, all four finished in the top 21 in the majors in ERA.
"I remember five or six years ago wanting to go to Oakland to pitch with Mulder, Zito and Hudson," Halladay recalled thinking of his days pitching for Toronto, when he saw no hope of getting to the World Series. "You want to be a part of that."
After pitching a perfect game against Florida on May 29 and no-hitting Cincinnati in the NL Division Series -- before losing to San Francisco in the NLCS -- missing the 2010 World Series was hard for Halladay to swallow.
He said winning a championship is what he's all about.
"I want to be part of a world championship team," he said. "That is the biggest thing for me, and, yeah, it would be tough if we got close again and didn't win."
Monday, The Rotation tried to put that depressing thought on the back burner.
There will be plenty of time for them to determine their deserved place in baseball history.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.