Lee still searching for first victory
NEW YORK -- As Brian Schneider scampered into second base with a two-out double in the seventh inning, Cliff Lee began walking slowly from the on-deck circle toward home plate, seemingly hopeful that he would be allowed to hit and, thus, to continue to pitch.
Lee had entered the game with six hits in 16 at bats, a .375 average, but he had thrown 99 pitches and the Phillies trailed the Mets 3-1, so manager Charlie Manuel summoned him back, to be replaced by a pinch-hitter.
The move proved inspired, as Carlos Ruiz hit a two-run homer that tied the game, sparing Lee any chance of losing his third game in 2012, yet still left him without a win in eight starts this season despite a 3.00 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP.
"So as long as we win the game, that's all that matters to me," Lee said. "Obviously I want to stay in the game there, but I understand the reasons why and [Ruiz] proved it."
Philadelphia scored seven runs over the final two innings to secure a 10-6 win, its sixth victory in its last eight games, moving to within three games of first place in the National League East.
It seems incomprehensible that Lee -- a recent Cy Young winner, a three-time All-Star, one of the game's most highly compensated pitchers and someone who had never gone more than three winless starts to begin a season -- does not have a win as the calendar flips to June.
"Anything's possible in this game," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm sure he's going to get some wins. He'll get his share."
Lee's 2012 season -- in which he and the Cubs' Ryan Dempster are the only two pitchers with at least eight starts and no wins -- is simply the latest exhibit in a growing list of evidence of the near inconsequentiality of wins in the absence of run support. Six of his eight outings have been quality starts. His ERA is among the league's top 20. And his 5.4 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best among all major league starters. He is, as Schneider put it, the "same guy" as he always has been since joining the Phillies.
"It's unfortunate he doesn't have any wins for us because he's pitched deep into games," Schneider said. "He only has two losses which means he's leaving a lot of tied games. He has the right mentality and doesn't get upset. He does his job. The wins will come."
Lee did briefly deviate from his usual calm demeanor in his last start. After two balls were misplayed in the outfield, Lee had and centerfielder Shane Victorino exchanged heated words in the dugout before Schneider stepped between them, according to reports. It was, however, an incident which Lee declined to address and Victorino downplayed to reporters as "no big deal."
It has been a season of curiosities for the Phillies. Wednesday night's win was just their fourth in the last 14 starts made by either Lee or Roy Halladay, dating back to April 21. That record is backwards from what has become expected; then again, Philadelphia, which has won five straight NL East titles, remains in last place, at least for now.
Halladay, of course, won't be making any starts for the next six-to-eight weeks after he was diagnosed with a strain of the latissimus dorsi muscle in his back. He sought a second opinion, however, which could change that estimate, and will discuss the results on Friday. Halladay is one of 10 Phillies (and two starters, along with Vance Worley) currently on the disabled list, with two others -- Lee and reliever Jose Contreras -- having served time earlier in the year.
Cole Hamels is having a superlative season in the final year of his current contract. He has a 2.43 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and a 5.14 K/BB ratio that's second only to Lee and -- because he has the eighth-best run support in the NL -- he has eight wins.
Though Philadelphia finished Wednesday night with 10 runs, only three were scored under Lee's watch, but that pace -- 4.5 over nine innings -- was more than double the rate of run support he had been receiving entering the night.
Through Lee's first seven starts, the Phillies were scoring just 2.12 runs of support per nine innings, a mark that trailed only the Padres' Edinson Volquez (1.66) and the Cubs' Ryan Dempster (1.98) among qualified major-league pitchers. Lee did, after all, throw 10 shutout innings last month -- and got a no decision.
"All I can control is what I can control," Lee said.
What he usually controls exceptionally well is his, uh, control. It took an uncharacteristic first inning to serve as a reminder to how good he's been.
Only for Lee would it be remarkable that he walked a left-handed batter or that he walked two in the inning, as the free pass issued to Daniel Murphy was the first allowed to a lefty by Lee this season in 42 plate appearances.
It was also the first time he walked two batters in the first inning in over a year and only his fifth two-walk first inning since the start of the 2008 season. More broadly, Wednesday night was only the sixth instance of Lee issuing multiple walks in
Lee struck out seven over his six frames, while getting seven outs via groundballs and four in the air. That nearly two-to-one groundout-to-flyout ratio is in line with his career-best rate this season; entering the game he had 2.06 GB/FB, which ranked 15th in the majors and vastly exceeded his previous personal best of 1.43.
"I try to get groundballs every time," Lee said. "You've got to keep the ball down, especially when you play [home games] in Philly. It's definitely a hitter's park. It's something I've always tried to do, but it's happening more often."
He benefitted from two double plays on Wednesday night -- moving him into first in the majors with 14 -- though only one was of the traditional kind. In the other, Mets pitcher Dillon Gee popped up a bunt, which Lee allowed to fall just inside the first-base foul line; Lee then tagged Gee for one out before firing to second, where the runner was caught for the second out.
With his pitching and, every so often, with his ingenuity, Lee continues to help his team win -- even if his record says otherwise.