Lee, Phillies shut out Giants

Cliff Lee pitched a complete game shutout against the Giants on Thursday in San Francisco. (Ben Margot/AP)
Cliff Lee pitched a complete game shutout against the Giants on Thursday in San Francisco. (Ben Margot/AP)
Posted: August 05, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO - The nightmares will not cease because this was merely Game 111 in a season that promises more than 162 for these Phillies. They entered this ballpark by the bay Thursday for the first time since last October, when great expectations were inexplicably spoiled by a team with absolutely nothing to lose.

The very sight of AT&T Park jogged undesirable memories - Cody Ross slapping an unhittable pitch; Juan Uribe stroking a game-ending fly ball; and Matt Cain two-hitting his way through a broken lineup.

But by all accounts, the 2011 Phillies have responded beyond even their wildest dreams. A 3-0 victory over the defending champion Giants was the latest evidence. Yet insecurity among a fan base, and even its manager, remains. This is the last hurdle, and no absurd amount of wins in the regular season will cure it. Until the Phillies defeat the Giants in the postseason (or someone else eliminates San Francisco), there will be constant whispers.

Yeah, but what about . . .

Cliff Lee was not present for last season's National League Championship Series. He was here Thursday and all he did was toss his fifth shutout of the season.

Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr. were not here, either, last October. They slugged back-to-back home runs in the second inning, and that was all the scoring Lee needed. The Phillies have a seven-game winning streak and an 81/2-game lead in the NL East. With 51 games to play, little drama lingers until the playoffs.

The scars of last fall run deep. Lee has his own demons in this building. Last October, his pristine postseason mark was spoiled in Game 1 of the World Series when the Giants battered him for seven runs in 42/3 innings. But that was 281 days and a whole different team ago Thursday, when Lee recaptured the love affair with Phillies fans that began in this city.

It was here where he made his debut in 2009, immediately after a deadline deal, and took a no-hitter into the sixth inning before settling on a complete-game victory.

He was just as good, if not better Thursday. Lee required no more than 19 pitches to retire the Giants in an inning. From the fifth to the seventh, he recorded nine outs on just 24 pitches. He allowed seven hits and not one Giant reached third base.

It's worth noting the Giants are a team with serious - perhaps debilitating - offensive flaws. Entering Thursday, the Giants ranked 15th in the National League in runs scored, 14th in team batting average, and 15th in team OPS. They are a team, much like the Phillies, that relies upon the arms of its pitchers while praying for timely hitting.

That may work in a seven-game postseason series, but the Phillies believe they have done enough to widen the talent gap in order to prevent another taste as bitter as 2010. Pence and Mayberry are the latest examples. Both are righthanded. Both provide a legitimate threat of power.

Their back-to-back home runs in the second inning marked the first time the Phillies swatted consecutive long balls since Memorial Day. In his first week as a Phillie, Pence has done nothing short of making Ruben Amaro Jr. look like an absolute genius. In addition to the homer, Pence singled home a ninth-inning insurance run.

For one night, at least, the sellout crowds that flock to this ballpark because they once witnessed the improbable were held silent. And the Phillies loved every moment.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com

or @magelb on Twitter.

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