Mon Oct 03 02:40am EDT
After dominating his way through all three rounds in the 2009 playoffs — before his Philadelphia Phillies ultimately fell to New York Yankees — and again dominating through the ALDS and ALCS rounds as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2010, it was beginning to feel like Lee was invincible in postseason play.
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However, once the Rangers reached last year's World Series, he came back to earth in two unsuccessful starts against the eventual world champion San Francisco Giants. In those starts, Lee went 0-2 with a 6.94 ERA in 11 2/3 innings.
Despite their success, the Giants weren't exactly an offensive juggernaut, so Lee's rough series was both surprising and newsworthy.
But it was pretty much a distant memory by the time he decided to rejoin the Phillies in December. And then, after overpowering the National League in the 2011 regular season — tossing six shutouts along the way — the expectation was simply that Lee and Roy Halladay(notes) would provide a 1-2 punch that helped Philadelphia steamroll to its second world championship in four years.
That could still prove to be the case, but there's no denying Lee again struggled in a big spot on Sunday night, allowing an early 4-0 lead and a golden opportunity to slip away, while filling the Cardinals with hope after their own ace was battered and already in the showers.
Part of Sunday's problem may be that Lee never had a chance to settle in. He was greeted immediately by a Rafael Furcal(notes) first-pitch triple leading off the game, but was able to pitch around it. David Freese(notes) then doubled on a first pitch leading off the second, which he again pitched around. Impressive work to be sure, but going right into the stretch doesn't allow a pitcher to find his rhythm.
After a decent third, Lee wasn't fortunate enough to escape the fourth untouched. After walking the leadoff hitter Lance Berkman(notes), St. Louis began chipping away with run-scoring hits by Ryan Theriot(notes), Jon Jay(notes) and Furcal. That pulled the Redbirds within one, and nearly evened the score, but Lee was bailed out by a fantastic outfield assist from Raul Ibanez(notes), cutting down Jay at the plate.
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After a smooth fifth, Lee was again touched up in the sixth and seventh innings, allowing a run on three hits in each, before Charlie Manuel pulled him with 110 mostly high-stress pitches.
Lee's final line (6 IP, 12 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 9 K) represents only the third time he allowed five earned runs or more in 33 regular and postseason starts this year. That also happened in Game 1 of last year's World Series. The 12 hits allowed were a career playoff high (11 starts), and his highest total allowed in any game since May 3, 2009 as a member of the Cleveland Indians. He's changed uniforms four different times since then.
Afterward, Lee would take full responsibility for his outing, simply stating that his inability to make pitches was his downfall. It was nice to hear the pitcher take the high road, rather than question what may or may not have been the most inconsistent strike zone they've pitched to all season. The bottom line is still making your pitches. Quite frankly, neither starter did that.
But Phillies fans don't want to hear anything from anyone. They want to see results and they want to see Lee bounce back from his third straight unsatisfying postseason outing in a dominant fashion his next time out.
Will that happen?
Of course they hope the answer is a resounding yes, but their biggest concern right now is whether or not that start happens in this postseason — whether it be Game 5 of this series or Game 1 of the NLCS. I guarantee you they didn't anticipate having that concern after Game 1.
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