TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge
Cliff Lee, who will be the American League's starting pitcher in tonight's All-Star game, knows his timing could've been better.
Lee, one of the Cleveland Indians' two All-Stars, is in the middle of a dream season. But collectively, his teammates are living a nightmare as owners of a 41-53 record and in last place in the AL Central.
"I wish I could've flip-flopped this year with last year and been bad this year," Lee said last week. "But you can't do that."
The Tribe's other all-star, center fielder Grady Sizemore, performs whether his team is winning or not. Lee, though, was at his worst last year while the Indians were at their best.
While Cleveland was on its way to 96 wins, an AL Central championship and a Game 7 loss to Boston in the AL Championship Series, Lee went 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA and spent a portion of the season at Triple-A Buffalo. He returned to the majors in September, but was left off the Indians' postseason roster.
Lee had to outlast Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers just to claim the No. 5 spot in Cleveland's rotation during spring training. Not only did he win that three-way battle, but he's soared to the upper echelon of AL pitching leaders by posting a 12-2 record, 2.31 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 18 starts.
Lee, who's making his first All-Star appearance tonight, will be the first Indians pitcher to start an All-Star game since Charles Nagy in 1996.
"He's been the best pitcher in the league from the start to this point," AL manager Terry Francona said in New York yesterday.
Sizemore, meanwhile, is always this good.
Making his third straight All-Star team this year, Sizemore leads the league in homers with 23, has 22 stolen bases, and is batting .273. He ranks third in the AL in total bases (195), is tied for fourth in extra-base hits (46), and is tied for 10th with 60 runs scored.
A participant in last night's Home Run Derby - the first Indian to take part in the event since Jim Thome in 1998 - Sizemore is the first Cleveland hitter to lead the AL in homers at the All-Star break since Thome in 2001.
Sizemore still doesn't consider himself a power hitter - he bats leadoff in manager Eric Wedge's lineup - but it's hard to deny his all-around skills.
Those skills - and Sizemore's ability to make adjustments - are why Wedge had no problem with Sizemore entering the derby, where each swing is a swing for the fences.
"He's got a knack for figuring it out. He's got good court awareness," Wedge said.
"I hope he enjoys it. I hope he has some down time, too. I want him to relax and enjoy the experience. It's his third year in a row [in the All-Star game] and each year he's able to enjoy it a little more."
Sizemore is trying to become the second Indian ever and first since Joe Carter in 1987 to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases. He's currently on pace to hit 39 homers and swipe 38 bases, and already joined Carter as the only Cleveland players to hit 100 homers and steal 100 bases in their careers.
Another Sizemore achievement that can't be measured with numbers is his leadership. While the Indians try to salvage what's left of this wasted season, Wedge wants the few proven veterans he has to take on more responsibility.
"One person who's already developed into a leader is Grady Sizemore," Wedge said. "There's no better leader than a guy who plays the way he plays."
- The Blade's news services contributed to this report.