Last year, when Texas traded for Cliff Lee down the stretch, most Rangers fans knew that the relationship would probably be short-term. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he would be a Yankee in 2011. Still, they must have grown attached, after he played such central role in the franchise’s first ever World Series run. Plus, rejection is never a good feeling, even if he did eventually stonewall the Yankees. When someone breaks up with you, it doesn’t really matter who they date next. In the end, they didn’t want to be with you.
Aside from one outing, Lee has yet to pitch up to his standards in 2011. In his previous start, he uncharacteristically walked six Cardinals and took his fourth loss of the season. He has been a far cry from the pitcher that dominated for the Rangers in last year’s playoffs, but pitching against his former team must have lit a spark in Lee, because he was in vintage form.
Lee dominated Texas for eight shutout innings. He played like he was mad -- as if Texas had snubbed him and not the other way around. For Rangers fans, I suspect it was like seeing your ex at the bar and having him or her get down with someone else right in front of you just to cause pain. As for Lee’s former teammates, they’re probably wondering what they did to make him so angry.
Surprisingly, Cliff did not have his signature control Saturday night. Only 69 percent of his pitches were strikes, contributing to his two walks on the evening. However, he did have his best stuff as the Rangers hit very few balls hard and struck out 10 times. Lee spread out five hits and never allowed a Ranger to get past second base. He threw a season-high 122 pitches, while remaining relatively stress-free, never appearing to labor. Granted, the Rangers were missing a huge portion of their team with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz out, but Lee would have been tough on any lineup Saturday.
As if dominating the Rangers from the mound wasn’t enough, Lee also added a single at the plate in the fifth, and subsequently stole second base. In the seventh, he nearly legged out an infield single on a routine ground ball, in what was probably the most hustle we’ve seen from any major league pitcher this season.
Lee’s performance overshadowed a solid outing from his former teammate, Rangers starter Colby Lewis. Lewis held the Phillies to seven hits and two runs over six and two-thirds innings pitched. However, in the second he made a mistake by throwing a 90 mph fastball down the middle to Ryan Howard, a pitch that the Phillies’ slugger deposited it in the right-field bleachers. The solo job wasn’t much damage, but it was all Philadelphia needed in this game.
Performances like this one represents why Lee was baseball’s most coveted free agent this past offseason. They’re also why the Phillies may be as good as advertised. While Roy Halladay has been his usual self, Lee and Roy Oswalt have not. Coming into the game against Texas, Lee was 2-4, while Oswalt has been banged up. Part of the problem is that the Phils have dearly missed the presence of Chase Utley in their lineup. Yet, despite injuries and sub-standard play from two of their three aces, the Phils are in first place in the NL East, and have the second-best record in baseball. If Lee continues to pitch like he did against the Rangers and Utley and Oswalt return to health, the Phillies are going to be every bit as scary as they were predicted to be.
Maybe Lee is just the consummate professional and happened to have a great night against his former team, but it sure seemed like he was playing with a chip on his shoulder. Either way, I doubt Rangers fans care. All they know is that some painful wounds have been re-opened. But, hey, at least it wasn’t a game pitched for the Yankees, right?
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