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Uniformly good

Consistency has been the key for All-Star Lee

Cliff Lee will be out of the outfield and on the mound tonight at Fenway. Cliff Lee will be out of the outfield and on the mound tonight at Fenway. (Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 17, 2010

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When Cliff Lee takes the mound at Fenway Park tonight he will do so with his fourth team in 12 months, despite a 98-56 career record and an 8-4 mark with a 2.64 ERA this season.

Having shaped such a productive career, there is no guarantee Texas is the former American League Cy Young winner’s last stop.

Lee has been traded four times, starting with the monster deal that sent him from Montreal to Cleveland with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew on June 27, 2002. Lee compiled an 83-48 record in seven-plus campaigns for the Indians, which included two 14-win and one 18-win seasons, but also a demotion to the minors in 2007. He bounced back to win the 2008 Cy Young with a 22-3 record.

What a journey.

Lee was sent to Philadelphia (along with Ben Francisco) on July 29, 2009, for Jason Knapp, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, and Lou Marson. Then the Phillies, unsure if they could sign Lee to a long-term deal, traded for Roy Halladay and shipped Lee to Seattle this past winter for J.C. Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies.

Wait, there’s more.

Last week Lee knew the trade winds were blowing again. A combination of the Mari ners b eing unsure about whether they could lock up Lee long-term and getting off to such a disappointing start had general manager Jack Zduriencik looking for buyers.

“I knew the past few weeks something was going to happen,’’ Lee said. “I didn’t know when but the day before it was official I had a sense that something was happening. I woke up the next morning and was watching TV and on the bottom line I saw that a trade was almost final with the Yankees. I honestly thought it was going to be the Yankees. But I guess Texas jumped in there at the last second and made the deal happen.’’

It seemed hard to believe the Yankees had been scooped. Many believe Yankee Stadium could be his long-term destination anyway. The Yankees had offered catching standout Jesus Montero, second baseman David Adams, and pitcher Zach McAllister. Zduriencik had an issue with Adams’s ankle injury and that opened it up to the Rangers and White Sox, but Texas’s offer included the much-coveted Justin Smoak, a power-hitting, switch-hitting first baseman, along with three other minor leaguers.

“It didn’t happen,’’ said Lee of a possible Yankees trade. “So now I’m looking forward to making the postseason with the Rangers, get to the World Series and win it. That’s the ultimate goal.’’

The 31-year-old Lee, who went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five playoff starts last fall, including two World Series wins over the Yankees, hopes his next long-term contract will include a no-trade clause so he won’t have to move again. Although he may be one of the best pitchers around, he knows business is business.

“That’s the way it goes,’’ he said. “When you’re on a team where the expectations don’t match what’s going on in the season, and things aren’t going according to plan, that’s what happens. When teams play their way out of the playoffs or out of a race, and there are teams in the race that weren’t expecting it, they start picking up players on those teams that aren’t in the race. If I was doing bad I wouldn’t be traded like this. In a way it’s a good thing. The perfect scenario would have been to go into this season with the Mariners, do well, we make the playoffs. That’s what I was planning on in spring training.’’

Lee was beaten in his Texas debut, 6-1, by the Orioles at Rangers Ballpark as his record there dipped to 4-4 with a 7.33 ERA, though he pitched his league-leading sixth complete game, throwing 95 pitches. A native and resident of Benton, Ark., it’s hard to tell where Lee would like to make his roots. Texas wouldn’t be bad, but he appears to be open to anywhere.

“I hope to be somewhere long term. But it’s not there yet,’’ he said. “I still have to go out there and do my job and stay healthy, focus on what I need to take care of to stay healthy, give the team a chance and all of those things. Too early to sit here and say I’ve got something locked up in a deal for the offseason. Obviously, now the next thing is to focus on the Red Sox and try to get those guys out. I really need to keep my sights that close and not look beyond that. All of that stuff is going to happen but for me to make the best of that I have to concentrate on right now and my next opponent.’’

He said “it’s nice’’ to go from last place to first place in the AL West, but he has plenty of experience joining new teams, so it’s become old hat to him.

“[First place is] where every player wants to be,’’ Lee said. “You want to put yourself in position to make the postseason. Obviously, what you want is you start spring training and then you start the season and win and never look back. That’s obviously not the route I took . . . Fortunately I was traded to a team whose plan has worked out . . . Hopefully I help and make that team better.

“There are all kinds of players with all kinds of personalities. I’m pretty laid-back and easy to get along with. I wasn’t scared or nervous about the situation at all. I’ve met some of these guys and I was aware of the talent they had here. It wasn’t that weird of a transition. It wasn’t that tough. And it wasn’t the first time. I’ve done it a few times. I can shield off all the media when I go out on the field and prepare and do what I need to do. I feel I can do that on any team. That’s not going to ensure I’m going to be successful every time but I expect myself to have a chance to win every time I take the mound.’’

Lee gets to see old friend John Farrell this weekend.

Farrell, the Red Sox pitching coach, was Cleveland’s minor league pitching coordinator when Lee was in the Indians’ farm system.

“Coming through the minor leagues, I definitely had formed a relationship with him,’’ said Lee. “He’s a great guy, that’s for sure. He knows the game and he’s done a pretty good job in Boston.’’

Did Farrell help him get to the big leagues?

“It’s not like I can sit here and pinpoint that he definitely did this for me or that for me, he was there in my minor league years heading to the big leagues so he definitely had a hand in it,’’ Lee said. “I don’t know if it was directly him or him talking to a pitching coach. So there are so many unknowns with that. I’m not sure what was coming from him. But he definitely had something to do with it.’’

As the Traveling Man of Baseball said, his focus is to finish the second half strong.

Time now to settle in, until the next journey.

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