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Back With Phillies, Lee Continues To Dominate

Southpaw tries to increase a 32-inning shutout streak.

As the days drew nigh to Christmas, baseball fans in New York, Texas and Boston held their collective breaths as they awaited the decision by Cliff Lee, as to where he would ply his trade in 2011. Not that the Boston Red Sox were in the mix, it’s just that the fans of “Red Sox Nation” were hoping that Lee would not choose to upset the balance of power in the AL East.

So, on the ides of December, when word came down that Cliff Lee was returning to the city of brotherly love, the world of baseball was knocked for a proverbial loop. Not only did Lee opt to sign a long-term contract with the Phillies, he wound up turning down more lucrative offers from both the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees.

Not that anyone at Citizens Bank Park should feel inclined to pass the hat for Lee, as he signed a rather comfortable 120 million dollar, five year contract with the locals. To further endear himself to the Phillies faithful, Cliff turned down a 7 year, 148 million dollar offer from the Yankees, who generally “get their man.”

Cliff Lee’s return to Philadelphia has been nothing short of fantastic, especially lately. He comes into this afternoon’s start in Toronto riding a scoreless streak of 32 innings and finished June with a 5-0 record and a 0.21 ERA.

Lee, whose initial stint with the Phillies ended on December 16, 2009, when he was traded to the Seattle Mariners in a deal which enabled the Phillies to acquire Roy Halladay from Toronto, was probably a victim of some miscommunication at the time. When Ruben Amaro, Jr. began doubting that the Phillies could win a bidding war with the Yankees and other ball-clubs, he immediately sought out Roy Halladay and his agent. So, after Cliff re-signed with the Phillies this off-season, many were delighted to hear him remark, “I never wanted to leave in the first place.”

Cliff Lee is an extraordinary athlete, a good hitter, terrific fielder and excellent base runner. A typical left-hander, that is, he “marches to the beat of his own drum,” Lee brings an unbridled joy to the game. It is obvious after watching Lee compete, that he loves everything about the game, another reason that both the Yankees and Rangers were at a disadvantage in their pursuit of the southpaw, since with the designated hitter in the American League, Cliff’s preference was to play National League baseball, where he would be afforded the opportunity to hit.

Cliff Lee has a wide assortment of pitches, which include a four-seam fastball, a two seam sinking fastball, a cutter, a circle change and a knuckle curve. He throws his entire repertoire with total command, as he is one of the most accurate hurlers in major league history. He not only moves pitches in and out, but he is also a master of changing eye-level, effectively moving pitches up and down. At 6’3” and 190 lbs, Lee is as consistent of a pitcher as there exists, as he routinely repeats his delivery, seldom getting out of rhythm.   

Lee was drated by the Montreal Expos in the fourth round of the 2000 amateur draft. In June, 2002 Lee was acquired by the Indians along with Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips and Lee Stevens for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew.  Later that season, Cliff was called up to the major leagues and he made his major league debut on September 15, going 5.1 innings, allowing just one run, but losing. 

Cliff would go on to win at least 14 games in his first three full major league seasons, hurling more than 200 innings in 2005 and 2006. 2007 proved troublesome for Lee, however, as he suffered a severe strained groin in spring training and never fully recovered.  So bad were his struggles that he was optioned to Buffalo on July 27 and not recalled until roster expansion in September.

However, that lost year would lead to one of the more incredible pitching performances in modern day baseball history. 2008 marked only one of eight times in baseball history that a pitcher would win 19 of his first 21 decisions. So dominant was Lee in 2008 that he was named to start the All-Star Game and he did not disappoint, as he hurled two scoreless innings as the starting pitcher for the American League.  On September 1, Lee hurled a shutout in winning his 20th game, becoming the first Indian hurler to accomplish the feat since Hall of Famer, Gaylord Perry in 1974. Lee’s totals in 2008 bordered on the absurd, as he finished 22-3, with a 2.54 ERA. Lee was voted the Cy Young Award. 

On July 29, 2009, with the Indians foundering in the AL Central, Lee was traded to the Phillies along with outfielder Ben Francisco, for young pitcher Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and Jason Knapp.  Cliff immediately left his mark on the fans of South Philly with a 5-1 victory, hurling a no-hitter into the sixth inning. 

The game also heralded the fact that Lee could hit, as he banged out two hits including a double.  After five games in Philadelphia, Lee sported a 5-0 record with a microscopic 0.68 ERA. The fans took to him immediately as they identified with a guy who seemed to wear his heart on his sleeve while playing baseball. Lee also excelled in his initial post-season in Philadelphia, as he went 2-0 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but it was what he did in the first game of the World Series against the Yankees that had historians scrambling for the record book. 

In defeating the Yankees 6-1, with the run unearned, Lee hurled a complete game, struck out ten and walked none.  Cliff thusly became the first pitcher since Deacon Phillippe to walk no one and strike out ten men in a complete game World Series victory.  You say that you’ve never heard of Deacon Phillippe?  Well, that may be because Phillippe accomplished the feat in 1903! 

Lee went on to win a second game against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series.  However, Lee was traded to Seattle for Phillippe (there’s that name again) Aumont, J.C. Ramirez and Tyson Gillies. With Seattle, Lee was astoundingly effective for a poor ball club, going 8-3, with a 2.34 ERA and a ridiculous 0.945 WHIP.  His strikeout/walk ratio was a fantastic 89/6, an absurdly great number.  However, with the lowly Mariners going nowhere fast, on July 9th, Seattle traded Lee to the Texas Rangers where he pitched Texas to the World Series. 

On August 6, Lee defeated the Oakland Athletics reaching the 100-win milestone.  Lee’s control and command during the 2010 season were astounding.  In an incredible 212 innings, Cliff Lee walked a mere 18 batters, translating to 0.76 walks per nine innings. This was the lowest ratio for any pitcher with 200 plus innings pitched since Red Lucas accomplished the feat in 1933 for Cincinnati.  When Lee hurled another terrific post season game against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 6, 2010, pitching seven innings of one run ball, striking out ten and walking none, it marked only the eighth time in major league history that a pitcher had struck out ten and walked none in a post-season game.  And incredibly, it was Lee that had hurled the last four.

Cliff Lee followed that up with a two hit 8-0-shutout over the New York Yankees in the 2010 ALCS while striking out thirteen men. In doing so, Lee became the first pitcher in major league history to hurl three 10 strikeout post-season games in one post-season.

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