CLEVELAND -- Another victory under his belt, Cliff Lee emerged from his postgame shower, walked to his locker and began getting dressed.
He slipped on a T-shirt that said: Ace of Spades.
Right now, he's the ace of baseball.
Unbeaten in 12 starts since July 11, Lee (22-2) allowed four earned runs in 8 1/3 innings to win his eighth straight start. He's 5-0 in five outings against Kansas City, which was also Lee's opponent for wins No. 4, 8, 18 and 21. Luckily, the Royals won't have to face the left-hander again until next season.
"I'm tired of that guy," Royals center fielder David DeJesus said with a laugh.
It's almost unthinkable to remember that Lee, who was demoted to the minor leagues last season and was left off Cleveland's 2007 postseason roster, had to win a spot as the Indians' fifth starter during spring training.
Lee is the first pitcher to have 20 more wins than losses since Oakland's Bob Welch in 1990. Welch went 27-6 and won the AL Cy Young Award that season, and Lee, who is scheduled to make three more starts, appears to be on his way to giving Cleveland its second straight award winner following CC Sabathia.
Lee's season is the best Indians manager Eric Wedge has ever seen.
"I know there have been some tremendous pitching seasons by starting pitchers over the years," Wedge said. "But this is without a doubt nothing like I've ever seen."
"It's very remarkable," Royals manager Trey Hillman said. "He's an outstanding pitcher. You can't do what he's doing by accident. You have to be focused from pitch to pitch."
Lee's streak is the longest by an Indians pitcher since Gaylord Perry won 15 straight decisions in 1974.
He was almost machinelike in his efficiency. Lee did not go to a single three-ball count and was three outs away from his fifth complete game when the Royals, who collected 11 hits, scored three runs off him in the ninth.
As consistent as he's been on the mound, Lee has been equally unshakable when talking about his magnificent season. He refuses to be impressed by his own eye-popping statistics, and insists all he's trying to do is give the Indians a chance to win.
Lee barely cracked a smile when he was asked if he'd ever lose again.
"I don't know," he said. "I'm going to try not to. I'm just trying to give myself a chance every time out."
Lee will likely make three more starts, and he's just hoping to finish a season no one saw coming.
"It's not over yet," said Lee, the first pitcher to reach 22 wins since Dontrelle Willis in 2005. "So far, it's going pretty good. But I'm not going to start patting myself on the back yet."
Jose Guillen homered twice off Lee for Kansas City.
Shoppach pulled an 0-1 pitch from Meche over the left-field wall to make it 2-1 in the third. The 28-year-old's production this season has been a pleasant surprise for the Indians, giving them another option behind the plate and the ability to preserve catcher Victor Martinez by occasionally moving him to first base.
The Indians, now 35-21 since July 10, scored four runs in the fifth to open a 6-1 lead and Cleveland blew it open with three runs in the sixth, more than enough for Lee.
Kansas City tied it 1-1 in the second on Mark Teahen's run-scoring single and the Royals had a chance to do more damage against Lee, but had two runners thrown out at home.
With one out and runners at first and third, Tony Pena hit a comebacker to Lee, who snagged the hard grounder but dropped the ball as he began to whirl and throw to second for a potential inning-ending double play. Lee recovered and alertly threw home to get a sliding Esteban German.
After the game, Shoppach was surrounded at his locker when reliever Brendan Donnelly yelled, "What did you do, Shop?" across the room.
"I caught Cliff," Shoppach said. "He did what he's done all year."
Lee is now one win shy of matching Vean Gregg (1911) for the most wins in a season by a Cleveland left-hander. ... Wedge laughed when he was asked how many fans he expects to see on Saturday night, when the teams will play the second game of a day-night doubleheader and Ohio State's matchup with No. 1 Southern California will be on TV. "We've been there before," he said. "It's that time of year." ... Royals OF Mitch Maier, who had three facial bones broken when he was hit by a pitch on Kansas City's last visit to Cleveland, was activated from the 15-day disabled list but did not play.