By Chris Elsberry
NEW YORK – As dominant as Cliff Lee has been through the first two rounds of the postseason, he saved perhaps his best performance for the biggest stage, Game 1 of the World Series.
Lee was masterful, throwing a complete game, allowing just six hits and one unearned run as Philadelphia drew first blood with an impressive 6-1 win over the New York Yankees Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
He came into his World Series debut with a 2-0 record and a 0.74 ERA in three 2009 playoff starts and made those numbers even better with his dominance of the Yankees.
Lee is now 3-0 with a microscopic 0.54 ERA in four playoff starts. In the postseason, he’s allowed just 20 hits in 33 1/3 innings, struck out 29 and walked just three.
“He was tough on us,” Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He pitched well. He’s been pitching like that for the last couple of years. He was mixing his pitches up and he did a great job.”
Setting the Yankee hitters up with fastballs, Lee made them pay with his change-up. Twice, he burned Alex Rodriguez with a devastating change-up for strikeouts. And if it wasn’t the change, it was Lee’s breaking ball, which frustrated the New York lineup all night.
“He was great,” Yankee manager Joe Girardi said. “He kept us off balance. He got us to chase some pitches down in the zone. He used his cutter very well. He used his curve really well. He was really, really good.”
Lee showed no butterflies standing in the bright lights of his first World Series. And in Yankee Stadium, no less. Before the ninth, when shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ error ended his chance for a shutout, Lee didn’t allow a Yankee hitter past second base. The 3-4-5 hitters in the lineup – Mark Teixeria, Rodriguez and Jorge Posada – went a combined 1-for-12 with seven strikeouts.
“This is the stage that I’ve wanted to be on since I was a little kid. There’s no reason to be nervous,” Lee said. “It’s been a log time since I’ve been nervous playing this game. I’ve been doing this for so long, this is the time to go out and have fun and let your skills take over.”
Lee came over to the Phillies in a six-player trade with Cleveland on July 29. He reeled off five straight wins with Philadelphia before coming to earth a little, winning just two of his last six decisions.
But in the playoffs, Lee has pitched like the pitcher he was in 2008 when he went 22-3 and won the Cy Young.
“I knew he was good but if you want to know the truth, I didn’t know he was as good as he’s been,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “He had all of his pitches going and he used every one of them. He went right through a good lineup, a tremendous lineup.”