Cliff Lee(notes) had never pitched in a playoff game before last week, but the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner’s lack of postseason experience wasn’t a cause for concern to the Philadelphia Phillies when they traded for him.
Based on his first pressure-packed trip to the mound, it shouldn’t have been.
Lee opened the Phillies’ defense of their World Series title with a dominant victory over the Colorado Rockies, and he can send them to the NL championship series with another Monday night in Game 4 of their playoff series at Coors Field.
Lee (1-0, 1.00 ERA) went the distance in Philadelphia’s 5-1, Game 1 win over the Rockies on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park, giving his new team a beginning boost in their quest to become baseball’s first repeat champion since the New York Yankees won three consecutive World Series from 1998-2000.
The left-hander, of course, wasn’t around for the Phillies’ run to the 2008 Fall Classic, when Lee was watching the playoffs after turning in a stunning season for a .500 Cleveland team. A year after being banished to the minors as the Indians were on their way to the 2007 AL Central title, Lee went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA in winning the AL Cy Young Award.
With credentials like that, Philadelphia didn’t care if Lee had never pitched in the postseason. Given his 113-pitch, five-strikeout, zero-walk performance Wednesday, the magnitude of the moment didn’t seem to faze Lee, either.
“I tried to treat it as much as a regular game as I could,” Lee said after improving to 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA in two starts against the Rockies in 2009. “Obviously, there’s more excitement with a playoff game but it’s still 60 feet, 6 inches to the plate and it’s the same strike zone.”
Lee -1-2 with an 8.10 ERA in four road starts since Sept. 1 - can help eliminate Colorado on Monday after his teammates pushed the Rockies to the brink of elimination in frigid Coors Field on Sunday night. Chase Utley(notes) had three hits - including a homer - and Ryan Howard(notes) and Carlos Ruiz(notes) drove in two runs apiece before the much-maligned Brad Lidge(notes) closed out a 6-5 victory.
Lidge was the closer no opposing hitter wanted a part of last season, when he converted all 41 regular-season save opportunities and seven more in the playoffs, but he transformed into the back-end reliever Philadelphia fans feared in 2009. Lidge was 0-8 with a 7.21 ERA in the regular season - losing the closer’s role - but manager Charlie Manuel turned to him Sunday with the trio of the injured Scott Eyre(notes), Ryan Madson(notes) and Chad Durbin(notes) already used up.
“He’s had ups and downs,” Howard said. “Right now he’s here to finish games. That’s what matters. I was glad to see him out there.”
Despite two ninth-inning walks, Lidge escaped unscathed. Colorado closer Huston Street(notes) couldn’t say the same, after he allowed the go-ahead run in the top of the inning to suffer his first loss since April 12 - when Matt Stairs’(notes) two-run homer lifted Philadelphia to a 7-5 win at Coors.
“When the postseason starts, it’s a completely clean slate,” said Lidge, a Denver native.
It was in the mid-20s in frosty Denver when Lidge induced a Troy Tulowitzki(notes) pop-up for the final out Sunday, but temperatures could be in the 50s by Monday’s first pitch. There also isn’t expected to be any threat of snow, which originally forced Game 3 to be moved from Saturday to Sunday - and ensured Game 4 would be Monday, rather than a scheduled travel day if a decisive Game 5 was needed.
Aside from some warmer weather, the Rockies can also hope for a better effort from starter Ubaldo Jimenez(notes) (0-1, 9.00) than they saw Wednesday. Jimenez went toe-to-toe with Lee through four shutout innings, but ran into trouble in the fifth, when he surrendered run-scoring hits to Ruiz and Raul Ibanez(notes).
The sixth inning was even worse. Jimenez gave up three hits to start the inning before he was pulled, and the right-hander was ultimately charged with five runs while falling to 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in four career postseason starts.
“Up until the fifth, it was one of the better games he had pitched over the course of the month,” manager Jim Tracy said. “He was really, really on his game into the fifth. He had all his stuff.”
Jimenez fell to 0-2 with an 8.40 in three career starts in Philadelphia, but he pitched well during his lone appearance against the Phillies in Colorado. Jimenez allowed one run and three hits over 6 1-3 innings in Game 3 of the 2007 NL division series, leaving without a decision in the Rockies’ 2-1 win that swept Philadelphia out of the postseason.
The Rockies have lost three consecutive postseason home games, including games 3 and 4 of the 2007 World Series against Boston.