CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona got to 19 wins apiece at the end of the 2007 MLB season for the Cleveland Indians, but neither got a chance to go for win No. 20. Brandon Webb has had two chances in 2008 to reach that milestone but was unable to seal the deal.
For Cleveland’s Cliff Lee, win No. 20 was never in doubt, as he cruised to a 5-0 complete game, shutout victory over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox. With the win, Lee became the Indians’ first 20 game winner in 34 years, when Gaylord Perry went 21-13 for the Erie Warriors in 1974.
It may have not been 1948, the last time the Indians won the World Series, but at least the team got to check off one year in an otherwise disappointing 2008.
Lee gave up back-to-back singles to Orlando Cabrera and A. J. Pierzynski to start the game but worked out of trouble with the help of an unassisted double play by second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. He followed that up by retiring 21 batters in a row before Paul Konerko singled with one out in the eighth inning.
The only threat the White Sox were really able to muster were singles by Joe Crede and Cabrera to start the ninth. But Lee hunkered down and got Pierzynski to fly out to left field before getting the A.L. home-run leader, Carlos Quentin, to ground into a game-ending double play. In a matter of two hours and 26 minutes and 109 pitches, the number 1974 was made obscure in Cleveland's sports history.
Early on, one had to wonder if the Indians’ up-and-down offense would be able to put up enough runs against Chicago’s high-powered offense. After Shin-Soo Choo plated the Tribe’s first run in the second, with a single off Konerko’s glove, the Indians had runners on first and third with no outs. But the next three hitters were unable to get the ball out of the infield and had to be content with a 1-0 lead.
The White Sox handed them a run in the third on a throwing error by pitcher Clayton Richard, and a Ben Francisco single made the score 2-0 Indians. With two outs in the fourth inning, Franklin Gutierrez, Kelly Shoppach, and Cabrera hit consecutive doubles to make the score 4-0.
The Tribe had a chance to break it open in the sixth, as Choo singled, Gutierrez walked, and Shoppach sacrificed them over to second and third. But the Indians' offense was unable to come through, stranding both men in scoring position after getting them there with one out.
They were able to add an insurance run in the eighth on a Cabrera sacrifice fly. It should have been more, after loading the bases with no one out, but in the end it didn’t matter.
Cliff Lee was in control from the outset, and the game was never really in doubt. It was just like any other Lee start in 2008. He didn’t do anything special or spectacular, he just commanded his fastball in the strike zone and kept hitters off balance with his breaking pitches.
He got ahead early and often and made the White Sox hitters try to adapt to him, which has been futile for most teams that face Lee in 2008.
It may not have been 1948 for the Indians, or 1964 for Cleveland Browns fans, but on Labor Day 2008, Cliff Lee made 1974 a footnote in Cleveland history. The Indians have their first 20-game winner since then.
Lee has been one of the few bright spots in this disappointing 2008 for the Indians and gives Tribe fans a reason to watch.
So what’s left for a Tribe fan to watch now...Why, to see Cliff Lee go for 25, of course!