Ace at his best against his former team

Cliff Lee was all smiles after leaving the game with a lead.
Cliff Lee was all smiles after leaving the game with a lead. (RON CORTES / Staff photographer)
Posted: May 22, 2011

Aside from the occasional runs the Phillies have scored since they opened a nine-game homestand Wednesday, the biggest rise from the packed-in crowd before Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park came when Cliff Lee came in to pinch-hit in the third inning Thursday night.

Lee is so popular here he'd probably get a standing ovation while he was cutting his lawn.

Instead, he mowed down his old buddies from the Texas Rangers for eight innings, holding them scoreless while striking out 10 in the Phillies' 2-0 win. Lee allowed five hits and no Ranger reached third base.

"It's going to be tough every time you face a guy like Cliff, but we're good enough and we're confident enough that we think we should be able to beat somebody like that," Rangers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "He pitched a great game and I'm not going to take anything away from him, but we definitely expect to do better."

Kinsler smiled when asked what made Lee so effective.

"We had the same report you hear every time a guy throws well," he said, "but he seems to do it more often than most."

Lee threw 122 pitches - 85 for strikes. "He's a notorious strike thrower," said Colby Lewis, the losing pitcher.

It was typical Lee, who once again channeled his all-around ballplayer instincts. He stole the first base of his career in the fifth inning. The crowd loved it. He came pretty close to beating out a routine grounder in the sixth. The crowd showed their love for that as well, standing to cheer him as he jogged back to the dugout.

Of course, the Rangers had a pretty good idea what they would see from Lee. He helped them reach the World Series last season after he was acquired from Seattle around the trade deadline. He won three games in the first two rounds of the playoffs before running out of steam against the Giants.

But while the Yankees and Rangers tried to woo Lee when he became a free agent after last season, the lefthander showed his heart was still in Philly, turning down more money from the Yankees.

Pitching against the Rangers for the first time since he left them, Lee knew they were familiar with his stuff, so he made an adjustment.

"Those guys know I throw a lot of fastballs, so I tried to throw a little less than I normally would," he said. "Throwing strikes was the key."

From Lee's perspective, it was more important just to get a win than to beat his former teammates. He hadn't won since April 14 and the Phillies had lost four of his previous five starts. In his most recent start he walked six, the most of his career. Like the other Phillies starters, Lee also got little support. The Phillies had scored 11 runs in his previous six starts. So he had to be as good as he was.

"It feels good to win," he said. "It's a little bit different when you pitch against guys you just played with. It was a little different, but not off-the-charts different."

Rangers manager Ron Washington and GM Joe Daniels presented Lee with his AL championship ring Friday in the Phillies clubhouse. Asked about his team's struggles on offense, Washington said, "You've seen Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitch, right? There's your answer. Good pitching stops hitting. It's that simple."


Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or rparrillo@phillynews.com

 

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