Phillies Nation is celebrating “Cliff Lee Month” in June of 2020, the nine-year anniversary of Lee’s iconic month of June 2011. Below are Phillies Nation Editorial Director Tim Kelly’s picks for the five best starts that Lee ever made in red pinstripes.
No. 5: Lee Pitches 10 Innings And Still Loses
Lee didn’t get a win on April 18, 2012, so some may object to this being on the list over Game 1 of the 2009 NLDS and other worthy performances. However, simply because Lee ended up on the wrong side of one of the greatest pitcher’s duels in recent memory doesn’t mean this performance should be viewed as anything other than what it was – brilliant.
In just his third start of the 2012 season, Lee went 10 innings, using just 102 pitches and scattering seven hits. The only run that the Giants would score – and the only one scored in the entire game – came in the bottom of the 11th inning, when Giants’ outfielder Melky Cabrera brought home the winning run with a single off of reliever Antonio Bastardo.
Matt Cain went nine innings for the Giants, allowing just two hits and shutting the Phillies out. It was one of the best performances of a very, very good career for Cain. However, from here, there’s a major difference between going nine and 10 innings. Lee, as Phillies Nation‘s Jonny Heller notes, remains the most recent pitcher to throw 10 complete innings in one game. It’s entirely possible that’s a feat we’ll never see again in the sport.
Spoiler alert: Lee really loved pitching in San Francisco.
No. 4: Lee Needs Just 99 Pitches To Shut Out Nationals
Watching dominant pitching is something that all baseball fans enjoy. Watching a pitcher dominate in just two hours and six minutes is something that very few pitchers in MLB history were capable of doing, but Lee was one of them.
After allowing 10 hits and six runs in his previous start, Lee bounced back in a major way on April 14, 2011. Over nine frames, he struck out 12 batters, including getting his former teammate Jayson Werth twice.
The Nationals would record just three hits, as Lee tossed the first of six complete-game shutouts, a feat that Phillies Nation‘s Ty Daubert correctly points out may never be matched again.
Despite sky-high expectations, Lee didn’t disappoint in his return to Philadelphia in 2011. In addition to the six complete-game shutouts, Lee went 17-8 with a 2.40 ERA, 2.60 FIP and 7.1 fWAR. In many years, that would have been good enough to win the National League Cy Young Award. In 2011, Lee finished third, behind Los Angeles Dodgers’ lefty Clayton Kershaw and his teammate, Roy Halladay.
No. 3: Lee Tosses Complete Game In First Start With Phillies
Getting to hear the great Jon Miller call Phillies games is always a treat. Perhaps never more than on July 31, 2009, when the recently-acquired Lee made his debut as a Phillie.
After winning the American League Cy Young Award the prior year, the Phillies pivoted to landing Lee from the Cleveland Indians after they were unable to pry Roy Halladay away from the Toronto Blue Jays. Pretty quickly, Lee proved to be a hell of a Plan B.
Not only did Lee limit the Giants to four hits and one run over nine innings, but after spending his entire career up to that point in the American League, he relished the chance to get to hit. In four at-bats, Lee reached base twice, including a double to lead off the top of the eighth inning, one that narrowly missed clearing the left-center field wall at the traditionally pitcher-friendly Oracle Park.
After being acquired by the Phillies ahead of the 2009 trade deadline, Lee would go 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA, 2.83 FIP and three complete games. And that was before the Phillies even got to the postseason…
No. 2: Lee Caps Off Iconic Month By Shutting Out Red Sox
When the Phillies and Boston Red Sox met on Tuesday, June 28, 2011, many thought it was a World Series preview. The Phillies had re-signed Lee the past offseason and were 49-30, the best record in the sport. The Red Sox – who had acquired Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford the prior offseason – were 45-33, the third-best record in baseball.
Lee took the mound for the Phillies, having allowed just one run in his first four starts of the month. In his two previous starts, Lee had tossed complete-game shutouts against the Florida Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, allowing just eight combined hits in the two games. And yet, his best performance of the month was yet to come.
Against a lineup that featured, Gonzalez, Crawford, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, Lee carried a no-hitter into the sixth innings. Marco Scutaro broke that with a single, but Lee quickly erased Scutaro by getting Red Sox righty Josh Beckett to ground into a double play in the next at-bat.
The single that Lee allowed off the bat of Scutaro was one of just two hits the Red Sox were able to muster on the night. Lee only struck out five batters, but managed to pitch a two-hit complete-game shutout.
In June of 2011, Lee went 5-0 with an 0.21 ERA and three consecutive complete games. It’s why nine summers later, we’re celebrating Cliff Lee Month.
No. 1: Lee Dominates The Yankees In World Series Game 1
Game 1 of the 2009 World Series wasn’t Lee’s most dominant start as a Phillie per se, but given the stage it came on, it’s one of the most iconic performances in franchise history.
On Oct. 28, 2009, the defending World Series Champions opened up the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium. Lee squared off with his former Cleveland Indians’ teammate CC Sabathia, and the two home runs that Chase Utley managed to hit off of Sabathia proved to be all Lee needed.
Across nine innings, Lee pitched with the confidence of someone pitching against their younger brother in their backyard. Mind you, he did this while facing a lineup that included Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada. He even added in two of the most memorable defensive plays a Phillies pitcher has ever made.
The Phillies would ultimately fall to the Yankees in six games in the 2009 World Series, but won both games that Lee started. In his first postseason, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts, two of which were complete games. His complete game in Game 1 of the World Series made him the first Phillie to do so since Curt Schilling in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series.
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