Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Phillies Go Back to the Future with Cliff Lee


Cliff Lee probably had the desire to go back in time as he took the mound for the Phillies at Citizen's Bank Park last evening. Lee came to the team in a much discussed trade in late July and proceeded to dazzle teammates, fans and the media alike with his intensely focused demeanor and phenomenal pitching over his first five appearances. Just when everyone was projecting playoff implications and comparing the pitcher to the best of all-time, Lee showed he was human over the next three starts.

It is unclear whether a DeLorean was involved, but the original version of Lee returned last night as he shut out the Washington Nationals on six hits. He also struck out 9, including the first three and last two batters he faced. The only real trouble he encountered was when he uncharacteristically walked three hitters in the 4th inning, but recorded a couple strikeouts to escape the self-induced jam. To underscore the oddity, these are the only walks that he has surrendered in the past 45 innings.

The offensive star of the game was Carlos Ruiz, who has somewhat quietly found his stroke and is hitting a blistering .371 over the last month. Last night, he cleared the bases with a 3-run double in the 2nd inning and added another double in the 8th inning. His only outs were a drive caught against the fence in left and a sinking liner to center that was snared with a diving catch. Jimmy Rollins and Jayson Werth were the other offensive leaders for the Phillies.

Lee's "retro" performance was great news for a team that continues to be concerned about its bullpen and is still without Rookie-of-the-Year candidate J.A. Happ. Additionally, starter Joe Blanton has faltered a bit after an extended run of strong pitching and there is lingering concern whether Cole Hamels can re-gain last year's consistency. All would agree, a sharp Cliff Lee is critical to the team's post season aspirations.

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