Phillies' Lee makes quick work of Nationals

Posted: April 14, 2011

WASHINGTON - With his right knee bleeding, Cliff Lee packed his locker at Nationals Park. He spent only five hours in the building Thursday, but this constitutes a fine day of work for Lee.

For the second straight night, the Phillies gathered around their starting pitcher to celebrate, this complete game a brisk, 4-0 win over the Nationals. Not since 1999 have Phillies starters finished back-to-back games.

It's only April, but here's Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee each throwing nine innings on consecutive nights. This is what you envisioned, right?

"I want to throw nine innings every time I take the mound," Lee said. "I hope Roy does it every day before me, too."

In 2 hours and 6 minutes, Lee dismantled the Washington lineup. He struck out 12, missing out on tying a career-high by one. Nationals hitters whiffed on 17 of Lee's 99 pitches, a simply amazing number.

"I was pretty much putting the ball where I wanted to most of the time," Lee said.

Halladay and Lee matched Paul Byrd and Curt Schilling, who threw complete games against the St. Louis Cardinals on May 11-12, 1999.

On Thursday, Lee did not throw his curveball until the sixth inning. And he still struck out four batters on it. He threw seven curves and the Nationals swung and missed at five of them.

"Those few innings right there, it was a big pitch for me," Lee said. "Early in the game, I was locating fastballs and keeping the ball down. The difference from this start to last start is everything was just a little bit up in Atlanta, and this start it was a little more down."

Was that the plan to hold off on the curveball?

"It just kind of happened that way," Lee said.

For the first five innings, Lee was matched by Nationals righthander Jordan Zimmermann, who is coming off Tommy John surgery. Through five, both pitchers had faced one batter over the minimum combined. Those five innings took exactly an hour to play.

But on the second swing of the sixth inning, Carlos Ruiz ended the perfect game, no-hitter, and shutout for Zimmermann by hitting a curveball just over the left-field wall for a solo home run.

"He's clutch," Lee said. "He knows how to call a game, keep the running game in check, and he's a clutch hitter. What more can you ask for from your catcher? He's a special player."

The Phillies added another run in the inning when Shane Victorino doubled and scored on a Jerry Hairston Jr. throwing error after a Placido Polanco single.

And that's when the focus shifted from the cold Phillies bats to the dominance of Lee.

The only hitters he allowed to reach base were Danny Espinosa (a third-inning double), Wilson Ramos (a fifth-inning single that later was erased with a caught stealing), Ramos again (a walk in the eighth), and pinch-hitter Jesus Flores (a single in the ninth).

Lee's performance was astounding when compared with his previous start six days earlier in Atlanta. He could not make it out of the fourth inning that night, and the Braves mashed ball after ball into the gaps at Turner Field.

The lefthander threw 73 pitches vs. Atlanta, and the Braves swung and missed at just two. Against Washington, Lee created swings and misses at 17 of his 99 total pitches, or 17.1 percent. His career swinging strike rate is 8.0 percent.

He'll need eight more complete games to match Halladay's season total from each of the past three years. Lee thinks he can do it, so long as he survives the mistakes.

He arrived at the ballpark shortly before 5 p.m. and left at 10 on the team bus. By then, the bloody knee from an eighth-inning slide was patched up, and the Nationals were still wondering what hit them.

No worries.

"Whatever," Lee said.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb

 

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