For a few brief moments it appeared that Cliff Lee’s stretch of brilliant pitching with the Phillies might be in jeopardy. His pitch count was rising in the bottom of the fifth inning as Ryan Theriot knocked a run-scoring single, and Lee looked like he might not be able to last much longer.
Those moments faded quickly, though, as Lee kept his composure to finish the inning, then breezed through three more frames on his way to another sterling effort. Lee allowed just the one run and struck out eight batters over 8 innings, and Ryan Howard stroked a 3-run homer to left as the Phillies beat the Cubs, 6-1. The win completed the three-game sweep, the first for the Phillies in Chicago since 1984, and pushed the NL East lead to 5 games.
With each start Lee continues to settle into his new role as ace of a World Series contender, showing that last year’s Cy Young campaign was no fluke. His effort today, lasting deep into the game to preserve a tired bullpen, moves his record to 3-0 with a miniscule 1.13 ERA in three starts with the Phillies.
Lee and Cubs’ starter Ryan Dempster traded zeros for three innings, but the Phils got to the righty in the fourth. Shane Victorino led off with a single and Chase Utley drew a walk to bring up the big guy. He didn’t disappoint. Howard poked a lazy changeup deep to the opposite field, breaking a career-long streak of 14 games without a long ball and giving the Phils a 3-0 lead. Three batters later Pedro Feliz turned on an inside pitch and sent a line drive over the ivy in left to tack on a run. On a windy day with the flags whipping around the outfield, it took two very hard-hit balls to clear the fence.
Just as he did in his first two starts in a new uniform, Lee baffled another batch of National League hitters once he had a lead. His control wasn’t flawless, as he allowed three walks to go with six hits, but he had no trouble retiring batters with runners on base. Even the wandering strike zone of umpire Mark Carlson – who seemed to move the zone with each new batter – couldn’t stand in the way of Lee’s sharp fastball-changeup combination.
The Phillies added insurance runs in the sixth and seventh to guarantee the sweep. Howard walked, then stole second cleanly and scored on Feliz’s grounder through the infield in the sixth. An inning later Utley singled home Victorino after the centerfielder reached on a bloop double, making the score 6-1.
Ryan Madson entered to pitch the ninth and struck out two batters to secure the win for Lee. After another 8 innings of one-run ball, it was a well-deserved win for the Phillies new ace.