Philadelphia Phillies fans knew that Cliff Lee would eventually get his third win—wouldn’t he?
Ryan Howard was due to bust out of a career-worst slump that saw him go hitless in 23 consecutive at-bats. Would this be the night?
And the Phillies offense was bound to get seven or more hits in a game for the first time, seemingly, since the Nixon Administration. Could all three happen in one fell swoop?
Yes, yes, and remarkably, yes.
Playing before their 160th straight sellout crowd, the National League-leading Phillies rode the superb pitching of Cliff Lee and the home-run power of first baseman Ryan Howard to notch a 2-0 inter-league victory over the visiting Texas Rangers.
For Lee, it was his first win since April 14, snapping his own career-worst (tying) skid of six consecutive starts without a win.
The unfortunate streak was more of a monument to the ineptitude of the Phillies offense than a statement on Lee’s pitching, but the 37 days without a win had to have caused a large gorilla to be perched on Lee’s back.
How is this stat for you? In his previous six starts, the Phillies had managed to score exactly one run for Lee while he was still pitching. Lee had pitched anywhere from six to seven innings in each of those starts, only giving up more than three earned runs one time.
In those six games, Lee was 0-3, and the Phils were 2-4 as a team. For the season, he entered the start against Texas with seven quality starts—three or fewer earned runs yielded while pitching at least six innings—out of nine, but only had a 2-4 record to show for his good work.
For only the second time in Lee’s last seven starts, the Phillies managed to actually scored a run for him before the sixth inning, thanks to Ryan Howard, who put an end to his own recent miseries at the plate.
Leading off the bottom of the second, the slugger drove a low-inside fastball from Lee’s ex-teammate Colby Lewis into the right field bleachers.
As it turned out, it would be the only run the smooth lefty from Arkansas would need—or receive from his teammates until John Mayberry Jr. singled in a run with two outs in the seventh.
Lee, who really started finding a beautiful rhythm in the fifth inning—when he struck out the side—made that one run look like six or seven, His biggest scare of the night may have come from the unlikely bat of Lewis.
Lewis lined a ball off of Lee’s back to start the top of the third. The ball, fortuitously, missed doing serious damage to Lee, and also caromed to an alert shortstop, Jimmy Rollins, who threw to Howard to nip the pitcher at first.
Cliff Lee, who also looks at home with a bat in his hand, did his best to try to spark his offense, singling with two outs in the fifth to send Wilson Valdez to third.
Taking advantage of an indifferent Rangers defense, Lee easily stole second base, putting two runners in scoring position for Rollins.
In a strange sequence, Valdez took home plate on a wild pitch. After a discussion, Valdez was summoned out of the dugout to return to third and Rollins was awarded first (correctly) as the pitch was ruled to have grazed the shortstop’s foot.
The crowd would have exploded if rightfielder Domonic Brown, just called up to the parent club, had delivered with a big, bases-loaded hit, but the top prospect only was able to hit a can of corn to right to end the inning.
Perhaps, the baseball gods, in some sort of Faustian bargain with Lee, had decreed that he could pitch for the team and the fans that he wanted to, but that he would never do so with any real run support.
Lee, still with only a 1-0 lead to work with, pitched out of what constituted trouble in the seventh. Lee yielded a one-out single to Mike Napoli, before getting David Murphy to fly out to left.
Fellow Arkansas Razorback Gary Gentry stepped in, and did battle with Lee, drawing a 3-2 payoff pitch. On pitch No. 100 for the game, Lee struck the centerfielder out for his ninth “K” of the contest.
The man with the No. 33 jersey would go on to fan his 10th and final batter; the start was the fifth this season in which Lee had struck out at least 10.
Skipper Charlie Manuel gave Lee a rest after his 122-pitch, eight-inning masterpiece, and turned it over to Ryan Madson, who is looking every bit the part of an All-Star closer.
First baseman Michael Young greeted Madson with a leadoff single to right, but Placido Polanco turned a bullet by Adrian Beltre into a 5-4-3 double play.
A fly ball off the bat of Mike Napoli found John Mayberry’s glove in deep center, and with that, Cliff Lee, and all of his fans, were able to celebrate a win for the lefty ace for the first time in 37 days.
Just another pitcher’s duel in that little bandbox called Citizens Bank Park.
Prior to tonight, the Phillies had not connected for more than six hits in a game in seven consecutive contests. They exploded for a total of eight against the Rangers.
Philly fans in general, and Phillies fans in particular, can get a bad rap, but there was a nice moment in the seventh where they showed their knowledge of the game and appreciation for a good effort.
With one out in the seventh, Lee slapped a slow roller to shortstop, and busted it down the line, but Wilson Andrus’ throw just beat him to the bag. Phillies fans, astutely, gave him a very warm ovation as he trotted back to the dugout.
Lee also authored his own odd moment in the top of the sixth. Ian Kinsler singled with two outs and nobody on.
Lee, pitching from a windup instead of the stretch, allowed Kinsler to waltz into second with the tying run. Lee pitched out of it, throwing one of his better pitches of the night to get Young (3-4 on the night) looking.
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