It was the most anticipated series of this baseball season, a matchup billed as a World Series preview, with the best hitting team in baseball squaring off against the best starting rotation.
And though both the Phillies and the Red Sox did all they could to downplay the significance of three games in June, the teams took the field to a playoff-like atmosphere.
In front of an electric sellout crowd of 45,000-plus at Citizens Bank Park, the Philadelphia Phillies shut out the Boston Red Sox 5-0 and Cliff Lee did everything but sell the programs. From the first pitch Lee had complete control of the crowd, the Red Sox and his curve ball.
He went the distance, allowing the Sox only two hits. It was the third consecutive shutout for the Phils left-hander, which puts him in some pretty rare company. The only other Phillies pitcher to throw three consecutive shutouts was Hall of Famer Robin Roberts in 1950.
With his recent dominance it's easy to forget that Lee's heralded return to the Phillies did not get off to the best start. After some early struggles, Lee was a disappointing 4-5 at the end of May. He had been hit, and hit hard, on several occasions giving up more runs and more walks than his norm. Many analysts and fans were already calling the much-hyped free agent acquisition a major and expensive misstep.
Last night's win concluded a month of June for Lee that has been nothing short of spectacular. He is 5-0, including three shutouts. He has pitched 42 of a possible 45 innings. During this stretch, Lee has given up 21 hits and only one earned run with 29 strikeouts and eight walks.
His ERA for the month of June is a jaw-dropping 0.21. And he increased his scoreless innings streak to 32 and counting.
Lee was treated to ovation after ovation last night by the appreciative crowd. They cheered him for everything from running hard to first on a ground ball to his sacrifice fly RBI. He even received a standing ovation after giving up his first hit in the sixth.
But Lee did not do it alone. Phils rookie right fielder Domonic Brown, who ironically was booed loudly on Saturday for not running hard to first on a ground ball, was treated to cheers from the crowd last night after his two-run blast off Josh Beckett in the second gave Lee the early lead.
As it turned out, that was all the help Lee needed. The two-run shot by Shane Victorino and Lee's sacrifice fly RBI were just icing on this special night.
And for the Phillies and their fans, this was a special night
No, it may not have been a World Series preview and it is just a series in June, but Cliff Lee's performance last night was one to remember.
And in a week where the Phillies lost one of their four aces to injury and had to put their third closer on the DL, Lee's heroics couldn't have come at a better time.
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