Lee, Phillies smash the Braves

Cliff Lee went the distance against Atlanta, hurling a five-hit shutout and striking out six to pick up his 16th win. It was his sixth shutout of the season, and he surpassed 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career.
Cliff Lee went the distance against Atlanta, hurling a five-hit shutout and striking out six to pick up his 16th win. It was his sixth shutout of the season, and he surpassed 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 06, 2011

The rain began falling in the second inning, a soft drizzle with the promise of a downpour to follow, and it created a heightened sense of urgency for the Phillies on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park.

They have no remaining days off the rest of the season, and with more rain threatening Tuesday's second game of their three-game series against Atlanta, the Phillies needed someone to get them through the fifth inning in a hurry to make the game official.

Otherwise, those day-night doubleheaders would continue to pile up, and that's no way to get a pitching staff ready for October's big stage.

When in a hurry, it's best to call on Cliff Lee, a human Acela train.

Lee gave the Phillies exactly what they needed. Like a scythe through a wheat field, he cut through the Braves lineup quickly and efficiently in a breezy 9-0 win, pushing the second-place Braves 81/2 games behind the Phillies in the NL East.

Lee collected his sixth shutout of the season, most in the majors. Steve Carlton was the last Phillies pitcher with more than six shutouts - he had eight in 1972. Lee struck out six, surpassing 200 strikeouts in a season for the first time, and he has a stunning 0.96 ERA in his last seven starts, all wins.

"I'm trying to throw strikes, trying to get ahead in the count and force them to swing their bats," said Lee, who threw 100 pitches, "especially when we got a pretty substantial lead. You don't really want to walk anybody at that point. You just want to throw strikes and make them swing the bat. I was able to do that.

"Chooch [catcher Carlos Ruiz] did an unbelievable job calling the game. We felt like we had them off-balance from the start, and he gets a lot of credit for that. He called a great game. I might have shook him once or twice the whole game."

Even though the rain didn't become a factor, Lee's performance had added value because it gave the Phillies' taxed bullpen a desperately needed rest. For the time being it further established him as the best among the Phillies aces, and his name must be in any discussion about the Cy Young Award.

"His command is very good," manager Charlie Manuel said after Lee lowered his ERA to 2.47, best among the starters. "He's moving the ball around, putting it where he wants to, and he's using all his pitches."

Lee had plenty of support from both his teammates and Braves fielders as the Phillies avoided their first three-game losing streak since June 1-3-4. Hunter Pence drove in three runs with a single and double while Shane Victorino and Ruiz each knocked in two. Ryan Howard hit his 31st homer and fifth in his last nine games.

"This was a big game for us," Howard said. "Cliff pitched well and we had Hunter come through in a couple situations. Cliff's a competitor. He's having fun out there. That's just Cliff."

The Braves made one costly error and failed to come up with key defensive plays at crucial moments. If they were looking for a confidence boost for a possible postseason matchup against the Phillies, this was not the night to find it. Instead, they were subjected to mock tomahawk-chop chants.

But it was Lee who grabbed control of the game from the outset and refused to let go. He retired 16 consecutive batters before Dan Uggla's hard shot hit off Lee and resulted in an infield single with one out in the seventh. Lee then ended the inning by getting Matt Diaz to ground into a double play. Quickly, of course.

Lee is now tied with Roy Halladay for the club lead with 16 victories. His six shutouts are the most in a season since Randy Johnson in 1998.

Lee also continued to bring the skills of an everyday player. He snared a hard grounder to begin a 1-6-3 double play in the eighth, and later singled in the same inning and scored.

On a night when just about everything went well for the Phillies, Chase Utley showed signs of breaking out of a funk with a single, triple and two runs scored. He was coming off a brutal seven-game road trip during which he hit .121 (4 for 33).

By the seventh inning, many in the sellout crowd began filing through the exits, grateful that they could recover from the holiday weekend with eight hours sleep, courtesy of Cliff Lee.

A Shout-Out for Shutouts

With his sixth shutout, lefthander Cliff Lee tied 12 other Phillies for 10th on the club's all-time list for a single season, the most recent being Steve Carlton in 1982.

The last pitcher in the majors with more than five was Randy Johnson, who had six in 1998, including four in 11 starts after being traded from Seattle to Houston.

The last pitcher to record more than six shutouts in a season was the Dodgers' Tim Belcher with eight in 1989.

The last with double-digit shutouts in a season was John Tudor with 10 in 1985 for St. Louis.

SOURCE: Baseball-reference.com

Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at rparrillo@phillynews.com

or @rayparrilloinq on Twitter.


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