Lee will try to become the Tribe’s first 20-game winner in 34 years as they start a three-game series against the first-place Chicago White Sox.
Lee was 46-24 with Cleveland from 2004-06, but started last season on the disabled list with a strained abdominal muscle and never found his groove after returning in May. The left-hander was sent to the minor leagues in July for five weeks, and finished 5-8 with 6.29 ERA.
Now healthy, Lee (19-2, 2.43 ERA) has been dominant throughout 2008, and unbeatable recently as he’s gone 8-0 with a 2.43 ERA in his last nine starts.
If he wins, Lee will become the first Cleveland pitcher to record 20 wins in a season since Gaylord Perry went 21-13 in 1974. Perry and former teammate CC Sabathia are the only Indians to win the Cy Young award.
Perry was a 24-game winner when he walked away with the award in 1972. Sabathia - now 9-0 with Milwaukee after being traded there in July - was named the AL’s top pitcher after using a late burst to finish with 19 wins last year.
“It’s something people vote on at the end of the season. I wish they could vote right now,” Lee told the Indians’ Web site on Tuesday after pitching 7 2-3 strong innings in a 10-4 win over Detroit.
Lee, also just the eighth pitcher since 1920 to win 19 or more of his first 21 decisions in a season, can become the first in the majors to reach 20 wins this year. Arizona’s Brandon Webb remained tied with Lee after allowing eight runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers in only 3 1-3 innings Sunday night.
Lee, though, hasn’t defeated the White Sox in nearly two years, going 0-1 with a 6.46 ERA in his last four appearances against them, including two starts.
The Indians (65-70), who reeled off a 10-game winning streak from Aug. 17-27 to move close to .500, now must regroup after dropping three straight to AL-worst Seattle, capped by a 6-4 loss on Sunday.
“We had chances late again,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “We were one hit away from tying or winning it in all three games. That was the story of the series.”
Meanwhile, the White Sox (77-59) maintained their hold on first place in the AL Central with a 4-2 victory at Boston on Sunday to avoid a three-game sweep.
Jim Thome hit his 536th career homer, tying Mickey Mantle for 14th all-time.
“To tie Mickey Mantle, you’re speechless. What do you say?” Thome said. “It’s really hard to talk about because when you throw Mickey Mantle’s name around, that’s probably one of the greatest home run hitters of all time.”
Thome is the Indians’ all-time leading home run hitter with 334 from 1991-2002, and has six in 11 games this year against his former club.
Chicago will send rookie Clayton Richard (2-2, 6.33) to the mound to face the Indians for the first time.
The right-hander failed to get out of the fifth inning in his first three major league starts, earning a 10.38 ERA and a demotion to the minors. In four appearances - including two starts - since being recalled on Aug. 15, he’s 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA.
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