Monday, October 3, 2011

The Flagging Legend Of Cliff Lee

Tonight in Philly, the Phillies staked ace lefty Cliff Lee to a 4-0 lead in the second, with early offense against Chris Carpenter, predictably struggling on three days of rest for the first time in his career. The hometown crowd, buoyed against the remarkably awful Eagles loss earlier in the day, had to think that the cancer was arrested to one sport. After all, they had Cliff Lee, the postseason monster who casually dispatched the Yankees in the World Series, on the mound, and the Cardinals bullpen is the weakest part of what's presumed to be a flawed team. The 2-0 lead and quick work that seemed inevitable after Ryan Howard's game-changing shot on Saturday was on pace.

Lee, however, gave up three in the third, another in the sixth, and one more in the seventh, for the full lead and then some. It could have easily been worse, if not for Raul Ibanez and Carlos Ruiz combining for a putout at home plate, and Brad Lidge erasing his inherited runners in the seventh. Seven innings of shutoff relief from six relievers later, with only two baserunners in all that time, the Cardinals left town with the 1-1 split that every underdog needs, with the opportunity to just hold home court and advance.

The loss dropped Lee's playoff record to 7-3, which seems fine and all... until you consider that he started 7-0, and his last two starts were the last two games of the World Series last year, when the Giants dropped him in two straight games for 10 runs (9 earned) in back to back losses. And yes, all of this is subject to small sample size this and small sample size that... but well, you aren't going to win a World Series in a large sample. And the thing about Lee is that he's always had more control than stuff, and if you out-think him -- expect the first pitch strike, look for the off-speed stuff when he's ahead, count on him pounding the zone when a less efficient pitcher would be happy to waste on eon a fishing expedition -- you can pound him. (Or just go in with no plan, see it and hit it, and go Zen, the way the true hitting savants do it.)

Just like, well, the best corollary to Lee in modern times, Greg Maddux... who was always better in the regular season than the playoffs. It would be cruel, but in no way surprising, for Phillie Fan to learn that the post-season legend is no more, and that the prized off-season acquisition isn't all that it's cracked up to be.

Kind of fitting for the day.

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