Lee's latest gem prompting lofty thoughts
Starter now 3-0 for Phillies, who have pieces for deep run
CHICAGO -- The postseason possibilities have entered Cliff Lee's mind, if only temporarily.
The Phillies brought Lee here, not necessarily because they couldn't make the playoffs without him, but because they felt they needed him to get through the playoffs to win their second consecutive World Series.
He can help.
"Obviously, I want to be there," Lee said following Thursday's 6-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. "Everybody should. If you don't, why are you even playing? There are a lot of games between now and then, and there are a lot of things that can happen. The way to get there is to take care of business today, and tomorrow prepare for the next start."
Lee has handled that task with aplomb since the Phillies acquired him July 29 in a trade with the Indians. In eight strong innings Thursday, he allowed six hits, one run and three walks and struck out eight. He is 3-0 with a 1.13 ERA in three starts with the Phillies. He has allowed 16 hits, three runs and six walks in 24 innings. He has struck out 24. Opponents have hit just .193 against him.
CC Sabathia went 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his first three starts last season after the Indians traded him to the Brewers. He allowed 17 hits, six runs, five earned runs, one home run and six walks in 24 innings. He hit two batters and struck out 24. Opponents hit .205 against him.
"It's been fun," Ryan Howard said. "It's been fun to go out there and watch him. He has a great tempo."
Howard helped Lee on Thursday. He hit a three-run homer to left field in the fourth inning to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead. It snapped a career-high 57 at-bat homerless streak for Howard, who has hit .444 (8-for-18) with six RBIs in his last five games. Pedro Feliz also homered in the inning.
Feliz went 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Shane Victorino, Chase Utley and Howard each had two hits.
Howard, Feliz and Lee helped the Phillies sweep the Cubs at Wrigley for the first time since June 14-17, 1984. They also helped the Phillies recover from a dreadful weekend at Citizens Bank Park, where the Marlins swept them.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was plenty steamed after Sunday's loss against Florida. He called a team meeting afterward with him doing all the talking.
The meeting seemed to help.
"Charlie doesn't usually talk unless there's something he needs to address," Howard said. "And that was something he obviously felt like he needed to address. Yeah, it was kind of a wakeup call. We weren't there."
"We played better. We hit the ball better. We won," Manuel said. "When you win, the whole game looks different."
Lee has made games move quickly. He gets the ball and throws the ball. He is aggressive.
Lee actually struggled with his command early. He walked three batters in his first three innings, but after a walk to Kosuke Fukudome with one out in the third inning, he retired 17 of the final 21 batters he faced.
"The last two innings I threw, I felt I commanded the ball as well as I did all day," Lee said. "Basically, I felt like I got better as the game went on."
The Cubs left the ballpark shaking their heads.
"He uses his heater as good as anybody, and from a lefty especially," shortstop Ryan Theriot said. "It's impressive."
"He throws everything for strikes," second baseman Jeff Baker said. "He's not predictable. He's got pitches that go every way. He's got a cutter that goes in, a changeup that goes in, a sinker that goes down and he's got that big curveball. There's a reason he won that Cy Young Award and he was so coveted at the Trade Deadline this year."
Lee and right-hander Pedro Martinez, who picked up a win Wednesday in his Phillies debut, recently have joined a rotation that includes Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ. The rotation has a 3.58 ERA in 12 games since Lee's debut July 31. It had a 4.63 ERA in the first 100 games of the season.
The Phillies hope the solid pitching continues.
They also hope the life the offense showed the previous two games -- the Phillies scored 18 combined runs in victories Wednesday and Thursday -- is a sign it is turning things around, too.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.