Everybody's talking about Cliff Lee

Having dealt with plenty of adversity off the mound, nothing fazes Lee when he's on it. Peter Hapak for ESPN The Magazine

A version of this story appears in the July 25 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Cliff Lee gives away nothing. His face provides no evidence of his emotional state. It stays locked in a zeroed-in expression, whether he's laboring through a 4-5 start that had fanatics in Philly fearing their new $120 million man was a bust, or humming through a 34-inning scoreless streak in June that reminded folks why he got that contract in the first place.

Scouts and coaches swoon over his stoicism and perfectly repetitious pitching motion, traits that give batters no clue which of his five -- some say six -- pitches is about to be unleashed. Confronting Lee is like facing Nolan Ryan's high leg kick followed by Greg Maddux's menu of plate options.

But the same demeanor that makes the lefthander indecipherable on the mound makes him equally mysterious off it. Few truly know the 32-year-old. Not his Phillies teammates, much less the club's rabid fan base. But those who do know him best, the folks who've been by his side throughout his rocky ascension, can break him down in a way opposing hitters can only dream of.