The last time Philadelphia's Cliff Lee started opposite Boston's Josh Beckett, he essentially singlehandedly led the Phillies to victory.
Given what's happened in Lee's starts this season, he may feel he'll need to do it all again in order to win.
The snakebitten Lee tries once again to break into the win column Sunday as he takes the mound for the Phillies in the deciding game of a weekend set against Beckett and the visiting Red Sox.
When Lee (0-1, 1.95 ERA) opposed Beckett (3-4, 4.97) last June 28 at Citizens Bank Park, the Philadelphia left-hander turned in possibly the finest outing of his career. Lee went the distance, throwing a two-hitter with two walks and five strikeouts while throwing 71 of 112 pitches for strikes. The Phillies (21-20) won 5-0, but would still have posted a victory had their only run come on Lee's fifth-inning sacrifice fly off Beckett.
The performance was one of two career two-hitters for Lee, both coming last June. Lee's 1.66 ERA since June 1 is easily the best in the majors, but despite his continued dominance he hasn't been able to buy a win in 2012.
The 2008 AL Cy Young winner received two total runs of support while going 0-1 in his first three starts, culminating in 10 shutout innings against Matt Cain and San Francisco on April 18 - a game the Phillies lost 1-0 in 11. Lee landed on the disabled list with a strained left oblique following that outing.
He's returned as good as ever in two May starts, allowing three runs over 14 innings only to see his bullpen squander the lead for him both times. He struck out a season-high 10 on Monday while limiting Houston to one run and five hits in eight innings, with Philadelphia eventually winning 4-3 in 10.
While Lee's season has been a steady exercise in frustration, Beckett's has already been a soap opera. The right-hander missed his first scheduled start of May due to lat stiffness that wasn't severe enough to keep him from going golfing during the absence. He returned May 10 and got booed off the mound at Fenway Park after giving up seven runs over 2 1-3 innings of an 8-3 loss to Cleveland.
It was an entirely different story Tuesday. Pitching with an apparent chip on his shoulder, Beckett didn't give the Boston fans any chance to boo, striking out nine in seven four-hit innings of a 5-0 victory over Seattle.
"Josh was the king of the hill (Tuesday),'' Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Josh has things that motivate him, and he was certainly motivated (Tuesday). He's one of our big boys. He doesn't need to follow. He can lead, and he wanted to (Tuesday).''
Beckett yielded five runs in six innings while losing to Lee last June.
After dropping Friday's series opener 6-4, Boston (19-21) bounced back Saturday to win 7-5 and snap Philadelphia's six-game winning streak.
Making a rare start at first base, David Ortiz homered, singled and drove in two runs for the Red Sox, who earned their seventh victory in nine games. Jarrod Saltalamacchia came a triple shy of the cycle after leaving Friday's game with an ear laceration. After receiving 12 stitches, Saltalamacchia texted Valentine from the hospital asking to play Saturday and predicting the homer he'd eventually hit.
"I wanted to make sure he knew I could play,'' Saltalamacchia said. "Sometimes if you tell the manager you are going to hit one out, he'll put you in there. I felt good. The ear didn't bother or affect me.''
Boston slugger Adrian Gonzalez went 0 for 4 on Saturday and is 1 for 18 over his last five games, but he's 7 for 13 with a homer and three doubles off Lee.