After starting the season 0-for-13, Lee now has eight hits in his last 20 at-bats over his last nine games. Yesterday marked his fourth career multihit game, and second of the season. He also has two game-winning RBI in 2011.
"Any time you can help the team win in any way, it's a good feeling," Lee said, a bit sheepishly, when asked about his newfound prowess at the plate. "As pitchers, we're not expected to hit. I try to take [hitting] seriously and help the team win. But, obviously, my job is to pitch."
After a few un-Lee-like outings in which he struggled with his command, the lefthander who went 22-3 and won the 2008 AL Cy Young Award as a member of the Cleveland Indians seemingly has rediscovered his mojo. He was 3-0 during the 11-game homestand, in which the Phillies went 9-2, posting a 0.38 earned run average in 24 innings over that span. He also has won each of his last five starts at Citizens Bank Park, with a 1.13 ERA in those games.
Lee's overall numbers - a 7-5 record with a 3.12 ERA - might not knock off anyone's socks at first glance, but the groove he appears to be settling into, as is more or less the case with the rest of that 24-carat-gold starting rotation, does not bode well for the Atlanta Braves or any other National League East team hopeful that the Phillies will go into an extended stumble that would serve to bring them back toward their pursuers.
That superb pitching, coupled with the fact that an occasionally listless offense generated 63 runs with 12 homers during the homestand, suggests that all those towering expectations the team took north coming out of spring training might be justified.
"When we play the way we can, we have a chance to have a very special season," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said after Lee faced just two hitters over the minimum, and did not allow a baserunner to reach second. "When we signed on, we signed on to go to the World Series, and win."
Forget that postgame tape of the late Harry Kalas singing "High Hopes." With yesterday's turnout of 45,628, the Phillies have strung together 163 consecutive home sellouts with a projected season attendance approaching 4 million. Their 28 home victories are the most in baseball, and in home day games they're now 10-1. These aren't a bunch of ants moving a rubber-tree plant. At the top of their form, as they are now, they're a $170 million-payroll juggernaut.
"We have confidence. We expect to do well," said second baseman Chase Utley, who did not play yesterday but whose activation from the disabled list on May 23 is widely viewed as the catalyst that has lifted the Phillies' performance on all levels.
Lee, for one, isn't so foolish as to predict that the current hot streak will last through October. This is baseball, after all, a marathon run in which momentum can shift dramatically, and for no apparent reason. Take the Marlins; a couple of weeks ago they were breathing down the Phillies' necks. They've now gone 1-14 during a stretch of 22 games in 21 days to fall 11 1/2 games behind the front-runners.
"The offense is going to go through funks, the pitching is going to go through funks," Lee reasoned. "That just happens over the course of the season. But we've got enough talent and we're good deep enough to battle through those things. But it is nice when everything is working right."
Lee's run-scoring double would have held up, as it turned out, but he picked up a couple of insurance runs, first in the fifth inning on Ryan Howard's solo homer, his 15th of the season, and then in the sixth on Jimmy Rollins' two-out, RBI double that scored Domonic Brown.
Manuel didn't even bother getting anyone to warm up in the bullpen, so efficient was Lee in his 117-pitch shutout, the seventh shutout of his career and his second this season. He retired the last eight batters he faced, each Marlin trudging back to the dugout ramping up the crowd to postseason-level delirium. *