In must-win situation, Phillies turn to Lee
Postseason's best starter set to face Yankees on full rest
PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Charlie Manuel resisted the temptation to start Cliff Lee on short rest and consequently positioned himself to be forever second-guessed.
"Hopefully Cliff will give us a great game tomorrow and we can get back to business," said Phillies closer Brad Lidge after allowing the Yankees to break a ninth-inning tie with a three-run, two-out outburst on Sunday night.
Had the Phillies opted against starting Joe Blanton and decided to send Lee to the mound to pitch on short rest for the first time in his career, there is no guarantee the Yankees still wouldn't have won and claimed a 3-1 advantage in this best-of-seven Series.
But Manuel would have certainly avoided the questions that were visibly starting to perturb him following Sunday night's loss.
When a reporter asked Manuel if he would have altered his thinking if Lee had insisted on pitching Game 5, Manuel said he still wouldn't have given this possibility any consideration.
After being asked why not, Manuel responded, "I've answered that about 10 times about the last two days, maybe 25."
During the only short conversation regarding this subject, Lee made it known he was willing to pitch on short rest in both Games 4 and 7. But Manuel walked away from this exchange still not comfortable about altering the routine that the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner has used while proving to be one of the game's top pitchers the past two years.
- 2009 Regular Season
- Overall: 33 GS, 13-9, 4.04 ERA, 195 K, 97 BB
- Overall: 34 GS, 14-13, 3.22 ERA, 181 K, 43 BB
- Key stat: 4th in AL with 10 HBP
- Key stat: 7.40 K/BB ratio w/PHI
- 2009: 4 GS, 1-0, 3.55 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 1-0, 3.55 ERA
- 2009: 4 GS, 3-0, 0.54 ERA
Career: 4 GS, 3-0, 0.54 ERA
- At CITIZENS BANK PARK
- 2009: No starts Career: 6 G, 5 GS, 2-3, 5.04 ERA
- 2009: 5 GS, 3-2, 2.52 ERA
Career: 5 GS, 3-2, 2.52 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2009: 1 GS, 0-1, 7.50 ERA
Career: 18 G, 17 GS, 6-8, 4.51 ERA
- 2009: 2 GS, 1-1, 3.00 ERA
Career: 10 GS, 5-4, 4.28 ERA
- Loves to face: Pedro Feliz, 2-for-18
Hates to face: Carlos Ruiz, 4-for-5
- Loves to face: Johnny Damon, 3-for-26
Hates to face: Derek Jeter, 14-for-31
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win:
In control of curveball
- Why he'll win: On a roll
- Pitcher beware: Still erratic
- Pitcher beware: Has to end sometime
- Bottom line: Can he shut PHI down again?
- Bottom line:
Will he keep it going?
"You're asking Cliff Lee to do something that he has never did before," Manuel said. "But we're also asking him to do it in a very big, important place, and that's in the World Series. I didn't have to think very long at all about that."
Now Manuel is forced to face the fact the Yankees were able to win with CC Sabathia going on short rest in Game 4. Maybe more importantly, if Sabathia needs to return again on short rest for Thursday night's Game 7, Lee won't be available to serve as his opposition.
Instead, the Phillies will have to decide whether they can send Cole Hamels to the mound with any sense of confidence. Their other alternative would be to go with rookie J.A. Happ or Blanton on short rest.
But before getting into those concerns, the Phillies must hope Lee will keep their season alive.
While making each of his four career postseason starts over the course of the past month, the 31-year-old left-hander has tossed two complete games, limited opponents to a .171 batting average and posted a 0.54 ERA -- the best mark posted by a pitcher who has completed at least 30 innings in the postseason.
"You're going to have good streaks, you're going to have bad streaks, and you've got to try to ride the good ones and limit the bad ones," Lee said. "The only way I know to do that is to stick to my routine and do what I know I need to do between starts and prepare."
Set up to follow his normal routine of pitching every five days, Lee will be attempting to repeat the success he encountered in Game 1, when he limited the Yankees to six hits in a complete game effort that was solely marred by an unearned run in the ninth inning.
This impressive effort simply extended the success that Lee has enjoyed against the Yankees since the start of the 2008 season. In the four starts he's made against the Bombers during this span, the veteran left-hander has gone 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA.
"Cliff Lee has been tough on us this year, we know that," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I mean, he's pitching extremely well."
Lee, who went 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in the 12 starts he made after the Phillies acquired him from the Indians on July 29, has proven capable of making the proper adjustments whenever he's been required to face the same team in consecutive starts.
During a May 3 start against the Tigers, Lee allowed the Tigers three earned runs and 12 hits in seven innings. In an eight-inning effort five days later, he limited them to one run and seven hits.
Five days after allowing the Nationals four earned runs in seven innings, Lee returned on Sept. 14 victimized that same club with a six-hit shutout.
This trend carried over to the postseason. After allowing one run in a complete-game gem against the Rockies in Game 1 of this year's Division Series, Lee took the mound for Game 4 at Coors Field and once again limited this lineup to one earned run over 7 1/3 innings.
"It's about making pitches and mixing speeds and being unpredictable and stuff like that," Lee said. "It really boils down to that, whether it's the first time, second, third, whatever. I don't really overcomplicate it or think, man, I just faced them the other day, it's going to be different now. It's still the same game. I've still got to go out there and locate pitches."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.