Phillies Notebook: Phils' Lee: 'Just one of those games'

RON CORTES / STAFF Cliff Lee congratulatesCarlos Ruiz after scoring a sixth-inning run.
RON CORTES / STAFF Cliff Lee congratulatesCarlos Ruiz after scoring a sixth-inning run.
Posted: April 02, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas - For three consecutive innings, the normally stingy Cliff Lee allowed the leadoff batter to reach base. He labored through 21 pitches in the second and coughed up a 6-0 lead before the end of the third.

After recording the first two outs in the fifth, Lee gave up back-to-back hits in his final inning. With the top of Texas' lineup looming, pitching coach Bob McClure, and not manager Ryne Sandberg, trotted out to talk to Lee.

The pitcher clearly didn't have his best stuff, but the coaching staff needed one more out.

"It was just one of those games," Lee said after being credited with an improbable victory in the Phillies' 14-10, Opening Day win at Texas. "Both offenses were just clicking. I could have done a better job locating and staying ahead in the count a little more, but I didn't. I didn't deserve to get a win, for sure, but we scored enough to enable it."

Lee's first start of 2014 - also his second Opening Day start - was among the worst of his career, statistically speaking. It marked the first time in 13 big-league seasons that Lee had allowed eight or more runs and 11 or more hits in the same game.

After retiring the Rangers in order in the first inning, Lee gave up back-to-back hits in the second. Later in the four-run inning Lee, who has led the big leagues with the lowest walk rate in each of the last two seasons, issued an uncharacteristic walk.

His start snowballed from there. Alex Rios became the third straight Rangers batter to reach base in the third, and he cleared the bases in doing so with a three-run homer that turned a 6-4 deficit into a 7-6 lead.

"He lost his cutter, believe it or not," said Jimmy Rollins, who helped give Lee an early lead with a grand slam. "That's his bread-and-butter pitch and he had to throw a lot of fastballs and they took advantage of it. When a pitcher loses a pitch, it's like a green light on him . . . He just lost his cutter and after that he became a one-pitch pitcher."

Lee was able to battle his way through the fifth. The Phillies, meanwhile, took the former Cy Young Award winner off the hook for the loss and in line for a victory by scoring four times in the top of the sixth.

"Maybe he had a game like this coming," manager Ryne Sandberg said, referencing Lee's bouts of low-run support in the past.

Two years ago, Lee didn't get his first win until July 4. Lee's 3.6 run-support average per start in 2012 ranked 10th lowest in baseball.

On Day 1 of 2014, the Phillies nearly quadrupled that figure.

"I'm not happy with the way I pitched," Lee said. "I'm proud of the way we swung the bat. The offense bailed me out, for sure. It's not very often you're going to go five innings and give up eight runs and get a win."

Lee was the first pitcher to win a game despite giving up eight or more earned runs since Tampa's Jeremy Hellickson last May; he was the first NL pitcher since San Diego's Woody Williams in 2001.

He was the first Phillies pitcher to win a game despite allowing eight or more earned runs since Dick Ruthven in 1981.

Yesterday's game marked just the fourth time in Lee's career that he allowed eight or more runs. It also ended a streak of 99 consecutive starts of allowing six earned runs or less, which had been the longest active streak in the major leagues.

Strategy works

After losing both Darin Ruf (strained oblique) and Bobby Abreu (released) within the last 2 weeks, Ryne Sandberg's pickings were a bit slim in finding an obvious designated hitter for the opener in an American League ballpark where the DH is employed. But the manager handled the assignment flawlessly.

Sandberg opted to start reserve outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. in leftfield, upgrading his defense behind Cliff Lee; Domonic Brown was the DH. Gwynn worked a two-out walk in the Phillies' six-run second inning.

But Sandberg's master stroke in manipulating the extra spot in his lineup came in the fifth. With the score tied, 7-7, and Texas lefty Pedro Figueroa just having entered the game, Sandberg pinch-hit righthanded-hitting John Mayberry Jr. for the lefthanded-hitting Gwynn.

Mayberry hit a two-run double and the Phils never relinquished the lead.

"It was just a gut feeling that it was going to be an offensive day," Sandberg said. "It just seemed like a scoring type of a day, the way the trend was going with two men on with one out. I looked at that as a possible [opportunity to score runs] . . . He was a righthanded bat and he came through in the clutch."

Mayberry could be rewarded with a start tonight: The Rangers are starting lefthander Martin Perez.

Rollins milestone

Jimmy Rollins' second-inning grand slam was the fourth of his career and also his 200th career home run.

Rollins is one of just 10 players in major league history who have hit at least 200 home runs while also stealing at least 400 bases. The others: Barry and Bobby Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Craig Biggio, Joe Morgan, Johnny Damon, Paul Molitor, Marquis Grissom and Roberto Alomar.

Rollins also tied a major league record (with Cal Ripken) and set a National League record (passing David Concepcion) by starting his 14th straight Opening Day at shortstop for the same franchise. Rollins' appearance wasn't a guarantee, however, as he flew in late Sunday night after spending the weekend at home with his wife.

The couple is expecting their second child this week.

"The baby let me go out there and play ball for a few more days," Rollins said.

Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team will be prepared this week if Rollins has to take a paternity leave. Jayson Nix, acquired Friday night, checked in with the team yesterday and fellow reserve infielder Cesar Hernandez took ground balls at shortstop during batting practice.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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