On July 26, 2000, the Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ed Wade completed a huge trade with Joe Garagiola Jr, his counterpart at the Arizona Diamondbacks.
In that deal the Phillies sent three-time NL All-Star starting pitcher Curt Schilling, the ace of his staff and one of the few premier players on a losing roster, to the Arizona desert. In exchange the Dbacks shipped a four-player package east: pitchers Vicenta Padilla, Omar Daal, and Nelson Figueroa, and first baseman Travis Lee.
Schilling would help Arizona capture the thrilling post-9/11 World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees. He would finish second in the Cy Young Award voting that year, the first of three times the big right-hander would finish as runner-up for those honors in his career.
On the Phillies end, Padilla won 49 games over six seasons as the club developed into a contender during the first half of the first decade of the 21st century. He was a 14-game winner in each of the 2002-03 seasons.
Daal would win 13 games in 2001 before being dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Figueroa went 4-5 over 19 games, 13 of those as a starting pitcher, in 2001. He would return for a 13-game stint in 2010.
Lee, who in 1998 had registered the first-ever base hit and blasted the first-ever home run in Arizona Diamondbacks franchise history, was the lone position player in the deal. He would play left field for two weeks before switching positions with rookie Pat Burrell, becoming the Phillies starting first baseman through the 2002 season.
Over parts of three seasons in Philadelphia, Lee slashed .258/.343/.402 with 34 home runs, 71 doubles, 174 RBIs, and 149 runs scored.
What brought this all back to me was a Twitter post and response that I happened to catch on Monday, March 30, 2020. In the exchange, NBC Sports Philadelphia was pushing an article by Corey Seidman on the top five home runs blasted during the 2019 season by Bryce Harper. That prompted this response from John Stolnis:
And so, it got me wondering. Wondering led to researching. And so, here we have it, at least in my opinion. Travis Lee‘s top five home runs as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies, presented in chronological order.
April 21, 2001: After seven straight losing seasons, including three last-place divisional finishes, the Phillies would sweep the Atlanta Braves in an early-season series at Veteran’s Stadium from April 20-22. The sweep pushed new skipper Larry Bowa and his ball club out to five games over the .500 mark and gave them a three-game lead in the National League East Division standings. It was the start of a six-game winning streak that led to a 27-12 stretch, giving the Phillies an eight-game lead as June began. Lee’s two-out solo home run off Greg Maddux in the bottom of the 4th inning at Veteran’s Stadium opened the scoring in a 4-1 win over Atlanta behind Robert Person and four relievers.
September 23, 2001: This was Lee’s only multi-homer game while with the Phillies and it came at pivotal time. The club was now a half-game behind the Braves in the NL East race. His first came off Florida Marlins starter Ryan Dempster and went over the right-center field wall to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 4th inning. Then with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the 9th inning, Lee crushed Antonio Alfonseca out to left field to tie the game at 4-4. They would win it in the 10th inning on a Johnny Estrada walk-off blast.
September 26, 2001: Lee’s three-run opposite-field bomb off Hector Mercado in the bottom of the 5th inning at Veteran’s Stadium gave the Phillies a 4-0 lead en route to an 8-0 romp over the Cincinnati Reds. Randy Wolf tossed a one-hitter, striking out eight and walking one. That lone Cincy hit came off the bat of Raul Gonzalez, the second batter of the game. With the win, the Phillies moved 10 games over the .500 mark for the first time in nearly a month and stayed within a game of Atlanta in the division race.
September 28 2001: The Phillies entered this one at Pro Player Stadium in Miami still just a game behind the Braves for first place in the National League East Division standings with nine left to play. In the top of the 3rd, Scott Rolen led off with a home run and Lee followed with his own. The back-to-back jacks gave the Phillies an early 4-1 lead. Unfortunately the Fish chipped away, tying it up with an unearned run off Jose Mesa in the bottom of the 9th inning. They won it on Kevin Pillar‘s one-out solo home run off Cliff Politte in the bottom of the 10th, and the Phillies slipped two games off the pace. The club then moved on to Atlanta where they dropped two of three in a showdown series, and ended up finishing two games out.
August 30, 2002: It was a struggle most of the 2002 season for the Phillies, who sat a full 11 games under the .500 mark and eight games out in the division standings as June began. The were still 10 games under as late as July 22. But the club then suddenly flipped a switch and the script, winning 22 of their next 30 to right their ship. Lee’s three-run blast in the top of the 7th inning at Shea Stadium turned the game around from a 4-2 deficit to a 5-4 lead. The Phillies would go on to a 7-5 victory that left them with a winning record for just the second time all season, the first since April 10. Still, they were 17 games behind Atlanta and 9.5 back in the NL Wildcard race. Losing nine of 10 at the start of September would finally kill them, though they rallied again to finish one game under the .500 mark.