Lee, Utley propel Phillies past Yankees 6-1 in World Series opener
NEW YORK -- Even when he caught a ball behind his back, Cliff Lee merely shrugged.
The Phillies' left-handed starter -- whose dominant pitching performance included a no-look stab on a hard grounder up the middle -- was cool and confident on the Yankee Stadium mound Wednesday night, as he pounded the strike zone with an array of sinking fastballs, cutters, changeups, curves and sliders.
He struck out 10, walked none and scattered six hits over 122 pitches in nine spectacular innings to beat CC Sabathia and the Yankees 6-1, giving Philadelphia a 1-0 lead in the rainy World Series opener before another record crowd, this time 50,257, at the new Yankee Stadium.
"To be successful at this level, you've got to be confident," said Lee, the Phillies' prized midseason trade acquisition, who, playoffs included, has gone 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA since the deal. "This is the same game I've been playing my whole life, and this is the stage that I've wanted to get to from a little kid. Now that I'm here, I've already put all the work in, there's no sense in being nervous and worried."
The last two World Series complete games also came at the Yankees' expense, in their previous two Fall Classic appearances. Florida's Josh Beckett shut out New York in 2003's clinching Game 6, and Arizona's Randy Johnson did the same in Game 2 of the 2001 Series.
Thursday's Game 2 will feature the Yankees' other high-priced free agent starter, A.J. Burnett, against the Phillies' Pedro Martinez, the polarizing former Red Sox ace who will be making his highly anticipated postseason return to the Bronx for the first time since the 2004 ALCS.
Power and patience are the common virtues of the celebrated Phillies and Yankees offenses, and Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley showed why, working deep counts before hitting two home runs, both on two-strike pitches.
"The majority of the time with two strikes I'll choke up on the bat a little bit to try to stay as short as possible," Utley said. "It doesn't always work out like that, but that's the goal."
On this night, he'll take the alternative.
Sabathia labored early, particularly to the Phillies' second baseman. On Sabathia's 54th pitch of the night, in only the third inning, Utley struck a knee-high fastball -- the ninth pitch of the at-bat and 15th pitch he had seen in two plate appearances -- into the first row of the right-field bleachers, a soaring pop whose arc took it just out of reach of right fielder Nick Swisher's glove. It was a home run not dissimilar from many that Johnny Damon and Derek Jeter, among others, poached during the regular season.
Remarkably, considering that a major league-high 237 home runs were hit at the new Yankee Stadium this season, in the first 53 2/3 postseason innings the Yankees have pitched here, Utley's blast was the first home run they allowed. It was also the first homer hit by a left-handed hitter off Sabathia at home in 2009.
Utley, who worked a first-inning walk to set a major league record of reaching base in 26 consecutive postseason games, homered again in the sixth, crushing a no-doubt deep liner well beyond the right-center-field fence. He became the third Phillie with a multi-homer World Series game, joining Ryan Howard and Lenny Dykstra, and the first left-hander to hit two homers off a lefty pitcher since Babe Ruth did it in 1928.
Philadelphia added a few insurance runs off the Yankees' bullpen, when Raul Ibañez drove in two with a bases-loaded single in the eighth and then Shane Victorino and Howard each had RBI hits in the ninth.
The Phillies and Yankees led their respective leagues in runs, homers and slugging percentage, but Lee's ability to mix speeds and location neutralized New York's potent offense.
"He threw five pitches for strikes," Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He had stuff moving in many different directions. If you're a young pitcher, he's a guy to watch. There's not really anything he doesn't do well."
The 31-year-old veteran left-hander is continuing a remarkable first postseason, when just two years ago he was so ineffective that the Indians demoted him to the minors for a month. Lee's '08 season was so good that he not only returned to the Indians' rotation but also won the AL Cy Young with a 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA -- a turnaround that earned him Comeback Player of the Year.
In World Series Game 1 Lee didn't take long between pitches to stay in rhythm, and in the clubhouse after the game he kept making a circular gesture with his hands, not unlike a basketball referee's traveling call, to explain his preferred pace. Just kept on rolling through that vaunted Yankees lineup.
"To me he sets the tone by his rhythm, getting the ball back, and he knows what he's going to do and he knows what he's going to throw," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I like the way he pitches. I like everything about how he goes about it."
Lee was particularly dominant early, striking out seven in the first four innings, including Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez twice each -- and he rung up A-Rod a third time in the ninth. For eight innings the Yankees never reached third base, nor did they have two runners on at the same time. They finally scored in the ninth inning when Jimmy Rollins made a throwing error on a possible double-play ball.
"He was great tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Lee. "He kept us off balance. He got us to chase some pitches when we were down in the count, up in the zone. He used his cutter very well, he used his curveball really well."
Earlier, however, Rollins' fielding helped kill a possible New York rally in the bottom of the fifth. With Hideki Matsui on first, Robinson Cano flubbed a low liner to Rollins, who reacted slowly to the ball, faking out the runner, only to catch it inches off the infield dirt. Matsui started running to second and was doubled off.
Sabathia -- pitching in his third straight postseason for different teams, including Milwaukee last year and Cleveland in 2007 -- settled down between Utley home runs, retiring the nine Phillies he faced in between the blasts. He threw 113 pitches over seven innings, striking out six and giving up two runs four hits and three walks.
Sabathia entered 2009 with a spotty postseason track record: 2-3, with a 7.92 ERA in five starts spanning 25 innings. But since donning pinstripes, he has been a changed pitcher, going 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in his three playoff starts this October.
(Incidentally, a reporter asked Sabathia during Tuesday's media day if he had considered whether -- given his considerable girth -- he wore more pinstripes than any other Yankee. He laughed off the peculiar question, "I don't know, I never counted them. I do know I probably have the biggest uniform in the history in baseball, though. I'm proud of that.")
The first World Series game in the new Yankee Stadium featured a rematch of sorts from the first regular-season game in this ballpark, as Sabathia and Lee, then pitching for Cleveland, dueled on April 16, a game the Indians won 10-2 by torching New York's bullpen. Lee and Sabathia are not only friends and former rotation mates from Cleveland, but they also are the past two winners of the AL Cy Young, Sabathia in '07 and Lee in '08.
The persistent early rain broke by mid-afternoon, with the sun poking through for a spell, giving way what appeared to be a cool (52 degrees) but otherwise pleasant evening for the opener, until a steady rain returned in the second inning, complemented by wind gusts that turned the precipitation sideways at times. It persisted until the late innings, though the weather did stay dry for a pregame ceremony honoring veterans that included First Lady, Michelle Obama, and the vice president's wife, Dr. Jill Biden.