Once every couple of decades, the Bombers don't get their man. It happened in 1992 with Greg Maddux, who took less money to sign with the Atlanta Braves, and it happened Monday night, when Lee left millions on the table to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, the team he pitched to the World Series in 2009, beating the Yankees twice, only to be traded weeks later to the Seattle Mariners.
Lee wound up returning to the World Series with the Texas Rangers after the Mariners traded him, but stunned the baseball world by spurning not only the Rangers, who practically played in his Arkansas backyard, but also the Yankees, who are wholly unaccustomed to having their checks returned without being cashed.
That sound you're hearing is the champagne corks being popped on Yawkey Way and perhaps in Liverpool, England, where Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner are spending time tending to their soccer team. How many times have Boston's best-laid plans been wrecked by a tsunami of Yankee dollars? Bernie Williams, Mike Mussina, Jose Contreras, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira.
Not this time. The Phillies, whose rotation already boasts one Cy Young Award winner, Roy Halladay, now has another in Lee, and can put four aces on the table through every turn in the rotation -- Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, did a great job of making sure the Yankees could not turn to outfielder Crawford as a potential Plan B, last week wrapping up a seven-year, $142 million deal for the free-agent left fielder while the Yankees' focus was on Lee.
That's not the only way the Sox made nuisances of themselves to the Bombers this offseason. They turned what the Yankees assumed to be a routine transaction, re-upping beloved closer Mariano Rivera, into a more expensive proposition by offering Rivera a two-year contract at $15 million a year. Rivera informed the Yankees of Boston's offer himself, according to a baseball source, and essentially ensured that the Yankees were not going to be getting a hometown discount.
Then last week, according to published accounts this weekend and confirmed to ESPN Boston by a baseball source Monday, the Red Sox thrust themselves into the Lee negotiations as well, making a seven-year offer. The Sox did so at a relatively low average annual value, but having a seven-year offer in hand clearly did nothing to hurt Lee's negotiating leverage.
On Saturday, after the media conference announcing Boston's signing of Crawford, one Red Sox official said it was his guess that Lee wasn't going to the Yankees. He thought Texas the likely destination; at the time, the Phillies were still "the mystery team" in the discussions.
Last season, the Yankees won 95 games and the wild card, finishing a game behind Tampa Bay and six games ahead of the injury-wracked Red Sox. Lee was considered a must-get for the Yankees, at least by many outside observers, because of the inconsistency of A.J. Burnett and the possible retirement of Andy Pettitte, the 38-year-old left-hander who last season went 11-3 but made just 21 starts, second fewest of his 16-year major league career.
The vision of Lee joining elite left-hander CC Sabathia at the top of the Yankees' rotation was not a comforting one for the Red Sox, especially with the addition of Gonzalez and Crawford giving them five left-handed hitters in their projected starting lineup in 2011. Beginning with his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2008, Lee had faced the Red Sox three times, once in each of the past three seasons, and had an 0-1 record with a 2.62 ERA.
The last time he faced them, on July 17 in Texas, Lee went nine innings, holding the Sox to two runs on six hits while walking one and whiffing six in a game the Rangers lost in 11 innings, 3-2.
But with Lee going back to the National League, the Sox no longer have to worry about facing him four times a season, as they have Sabathia in each of his first two seasons with the Bombers (he is 4-1 with a 3.04 ERA in those eight starts).
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman is unhappy with the perception that he has made a hash of this offseason, which also included tabloid covers of Derek Jeter in a Red Sox uniform before the Yanks re-signed their captain.
"I don't like this perception that we're confused or disoriented or we don't know what we're doing," Cashman told Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York. "We have contingency plans in the event [Lee] decides to go another way.''
None of those contingency plans, however, appear anywhere near as daunting as the sight of Lee in pinstripes.
In the post-midnight hours, after news broke that Lee was going to the Phillies, Red Sox officials did not respond to e-mailed requests for reaction. Sleeping? Perhaps.
Or perhaps they decided that gloating in public is unbecoming.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.