From the Ball Park: For Cliff Lee, Phillies Lineup Erupts Against Mets
PHILADELPHIA—Cliff Lee looked and talked like he’d been used to the treatment.
He sat relaxed atop the table at the center of the Citizens Bank Park clubhouse late Monday. Every so often, he kicked one of his dangling legs, as if he was bored.
Don’t misunderstand. He was happy to have helped the Phillies in an 8-3 win over the New York Mets. But his reaction to the thundering run support he got -- exactly what he didn’t throughout that curious 2012 season? Meh.
“It’s easier to throw with a lead, I guess,” he said when asked about it. “You can be more aggressive. You’re not as worried giving up a solo home run or a leadoff hit or whatever. In that sense it makes it easier.”
Wait a minute…
This, after that?
The Phillies crushed homers in 3 of 4 at-bats in the third inning, with Ryan Howard and Michael Young launching their first bombs of the year in back-to-back fashion off Mets starter Dillon Gee. John Mayberry homered two batters later.
They hung 7 hits in the second, just 2 for extra bases, and yet small-balled their way to 3 runs. Mayberry cracked a 2 RBI double, Jimmy Rollins an RBI double, and Lee himself singled to score Mayberry.
Howard, who went 1 for 4 to make him just 5 for 31 (.161) so far, ended his longest homerless streak (29 at-bats) to start a season in his 9 year big-league career.
Young, who in his age-36 season is playing in the field full-time for the first time since 2010, worked himself to within a double of going for the Phillies first cycle since David Bell in 2004 – before the Phils had recorded their 12th out.
He finished 3 for 4 with 2 RBI and 2 runs, gutted out a hearty triple in the fourth and went from first to third on a single earlier.
Mayberry, who last year hit .245 with more strikeouts (111) than hits (108), went 2 for 4 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored.
This, for the guy who last season posted the lowest win total of 379 guys all-time to get at least 200 strikeouts with an ERA and WHIP under 3.25 and 1.25: just 6 games.
This, for the guy who last year led the majors with both 11 quality start no-decision and 15 quality starts that didn’t end in a win.
This, for the guy who in 2012 worked with just 3.20 runs of support per nine innings, the fourth-worst in baseball – and markedly below the team’s 4.22 average for the year.
All after watching his Phillies blow 4-0 leads twice in the past 96 hours.
Yet afterward, Lee may as well have shrugged.
“I kinda feel both ways about it in that, it doesn’t matter that much but it is comforting to know you have a lead,” he said.
As for Lee himself, he slammed the breaks on an early-season skid for a starting staff that had been rocked for an ML-worst 7.08 ERA before Tuesday.
He went 8 2/3 innings and allowed just 3 runs, 2 earned, on 8 hits with 6 strikeouts to no walks. It extended his modern day record-19 straight starts of 6 innings or longer while throwing 1 walk or fewer. He at one point turned 10 straight batters back to the dugout. Of the 34 batters he faced, 27 saw first-pitch strikes.
Maybe best of all? Lee curbed the bullpen problem, if only for a night. You know, the way these aces used to.
He wasn’t perfect.
Mets catcher John Buck sent the first pitch he saw into stadium section 104 in the second inning for 2 thundering runs.
Lee served hits to 2 of 4 batters he faced in the ninth, which to Charlie Manuel was just grounds to pull the plug with 2 outs.
Manuel was showered with boos.
Lee was peppered with cheers.
Manuel said after the game that Lee didn’t want to come out, and offered push-back.
“It was tough,” he said of the call. “I wanted Cliff to finish the game. But at the same time, I didn’t want him to get into no big inning where he had to throw 25 or 30 pitches, either.”
Lee said he couldn’t remember how he phrased his protest. He even asked Jimmy Rollins.
“He wasn’t quite up to the mound yet,” he joked, for his most demonstrative moment.
Mike Adams got the last out in straight pitches.
But for the lineup, that’s the beauty of pop: it offers room for error for a starting pitcher.
Lee didn’t have much of that last year.
In 11 of 30 starts, the offense yielded 2 or fewer runs. Predictably, his Phillies lost all of those games, and Lee was tagged with Ls in 8.
The lineup produced 7 or more runs in just 4 of those starts.
They smeared the Mets for as many through three innings on Tuesday.
Lee’s 2013 debut on Thursday eerily resembled a hunk of his 2012 campaign: Lee going 8 scoreless while clinging to a 2-run cushion.
Then came Tuesday.
“Very refreshing,” said Manuel, when asked about how it felt to see Lee get support.
“I think I said before the game, We need to score some runs for him. We score some runs for him and we outplay the other team like we did tonight, we’re gonna win.
“We’re gonna win quite a few games.”
As will Lee.
Just don’t expect him to leap out of his skin with joy when he does.