PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies dreamed big when they pursued Cliff Lee as a free agent in December.
They imagined a rotation that included Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Lee. They pictured those four pitchers putting together one of the finest seasons in Phillies history, and perhaps one of the finest seasons for any rotation in baseball history.
Lee, who chose Philadelphia over the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, has been living up to those expectations lately. Actually, he has been exceeding them. He threw his third consecutive shutout in Tuesday's 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park.
"I expect us to do something really special," Lee said. "We expect to win the World Series, but we can't do that right now. What we need to do to do that is win today, go into tomorrow and win tomorrow."
Lee (9-5, 2.66 ERA) has been winning a lot lately.
Lee went 5-0 with a 0.21 ERA in June. He became the first Phillies pitcher to throw three consecutive shutouts since Robin Roberts in 1950. Lee has a career-high 32-inning scoreless streak, which is the fifth-highest streak in Phillies history. Grover Cleveland Alexander holds the franchise record, throwing 41 2/3 scoreless innings in 1911. Behind Alexander are Larry Andersen (33 innings in relief in '84), Ken Heintzelman (32 2/3 innings in '49), Roberts (32 2/3 innings in '50) and Lee.
"I don't care," Lee said of his place in history. "I play to win. Later when I'm done with my career I can look back and that's something I can be proud of. At this point, that's good, but it's not time to pat myself on the back. It's the middle of the season and we've got a lot of work to do and a lot of games to play."
Lee carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning when Marco Scutaro laced a leadoff single into left-center field. Lee allowed just two hits and two walks and struck out five in the victory.
"Oh man, he was great," Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. "He pitched his butt off. That's why he's one of the best in the business. He attacks the zone. He's one of the best, man."
It's hard to believe, but Lee entered the month with a 4-5 record, a 3.94 ERA and some fans wondering what was going on with one of their aces.
It turns out nothing.
"He has all four pitches working right now," catcher Carlos Ruiz said. "He's throwing a lot of curveballs. He's throwing the cutter to both sides of the plate. He's mixing it up real good, you know? Right now, I feel like I can call everything. He's got very good command."
Lee got some help, too. Domonic Brown jolted the crowd with a two-run home run into the Phillies' bullpen in the second inning to give Philadelphia a 2-0 lead. He doubled and scored in the fifth inning on Lee's sacrifice fly to make it 3-0. Shane Victorino then smacked a two-run homer to right field in the sixth to hand the Phillies a five-run lead.
It was the first time this season Red Sox right-hander Josh Beckett had allowed more than four runs in a game. Beckett started the night leading baseball with a 1.86 ERA and opponents' batting average of .174. So, naturally, a team that has been inconsistent at best at scoring runs this season had no problems with Beckett.
It was a night when one or two runs would have been plenty. Lee is in the best stretch of his career. He had a 27-inning scoreless streak in April 2008, when he won the American League Cy Young Award with the Cleveland Indians.
Does this run feel better than that one?
"I barely remember yesterday," he said. "It's been a good run, no doubt about it. I've had a few of them in my career, but I don't really compare one to the other or try to look back and see what this was like or that was like. I'm focused on my routine and preparing one start to the next."
Lee makes his next start Sunday in Toronto, where he will try to match Alexander as the only pitchers in Phillies history to throw four consecutive shutouts.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.