Phillies lose to Braves despite dominant performance from Cliff Lee
ATLANTA – When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to a five-year, $120 million contract three winters ago, it broke an unwritten franchise rule that began during the Pat Gillick regime.
According to Gillick, a Hall of Fame baseball executive, more than three years for a pitcher was simply too risky. Lee, however, has been one of the few players that has made Gillick’s successor look good.
Three years after Ruben Amaro Jr. swiped Lee of the free agent market, the veteran lefthander looks as good as he did in the 2009 World Series.
But following a 1-0 defeat to the Atlanta Braves on Friday, in a game when he made baseball history, Lee went into the offseason wondering how many more chances he’d get at the only thing he wants to get out of his career: a World Series ring.
“I am getting up there in age,” Lee said. “I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home. So I’m running out of opportunities.”
In his final start of the 2013 season, Lee struck out 13 without walking a batter, ending a month of September in which he racked up 54 strikeouts with just one walk. Lee is the first pitcher in baseball history to record 50-plus strikeouts while walking one batter or less in a single month.
But Lee also served up a solo home run to Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson to begin his eighth and final inning and took the tough loss.
“A pitcher’s duel that came down to an 0-2 pitch,” manager Ryne Sandberg said of a slider Lee tried to bury inside.
“I felt like I made a good pitch,” Lee said. “It was down and in. I think it was a ball. He put a good swing on it and hit a home run and that’s the game.”
Lee finished the season 14-8 with a 2.87 ERA. His ERA is the 10th best in baseball.
Following Friday’s defeat, however, Lee has two more guaranteed years remaining on his aforementioned contract. The deal includes a vesting option for a sixth season, however, which Lee would reach by pitching either 200 innings in 2015 or 400 total innings between 2014-15.
Either way, the Phillies have a two- or three-year window to win with Lee. And they’ve just wasted three years when Lee went 37-25 with a 2.80 ERA in 93 starts.
After two or three more years, Lee insists he’s riding off into the sunset to Arkansas.
“Right now I don’t (plan on pitching beyond the contract),” said Lee, who was on the losing end of back-to-back World Series in 2009 and 2010. “There are a lot of things that can happen between now and then, but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives. I’m financially able to shut it down, so … that’s how I feel right now. But when they time comes I might look at it differently.
“I also want to finish being good, not struggling and fumbling through at the end. I want to finish strong and take it to the house. Next year I want to win a World Series, then another one, then another one and take it to the house. That’s what I’m wanting to do.”
Although the Phillies entered Friday’s game three losses away from 90 for the season and 22 games behind the Braves in the standings, Lee pitched as if it were Game 1 of the NLCS.
Lee was brilliant, blanking the Braves through seven innings, matching Kris Medlen in an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Lee’s no nonsense, give-me-the-damn-ball-so-I-can-these-guys-out quick demeanor fits right into the baseball ideology of his manager.
“He’s durable,” Sandberg said prior to the game. “He takes care of himself. He’s a gamer. He likes to have the ball. He likes to compete. He’s a competitor.”
Medlen, meanwhile, flirted with a no-hitter for the Braves. Medlen was 10 outs away from a no-no when Cesar Hernandez legged out an infield single on a dribbler to third with two outs in the sixth.While Medlen was mowing down the futile Phils lineup – they have scored five runs in the first five games of their current road trip – Lee was punching Braves batters out with equal dominance.
Lee struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings. From the end of the second inning through the sixth, Lee struck out 10 of the 13 hitters he faced.
“There’s still a pride thing,” Lee said of pitching as if a pennant was on the line. “You still have to do your job and do everything to win. I know we’re out of it, but it’s not over til it’s over, and out of respect to the game and my teammates, I’m going to continue to go out there and play like it means something.”
In 2014, Lee is hoping he’s pitching in games that do mean something for the Phillies.
Lee has pitched in just one postseason game with the Phils since signing his current contract. Despite the Phillies’ rapid decline in the last two seasons, going from a 102-win team to one two losses away from 90, Lee sounded confident there was hope for what remains in his career in Philadelphia.“What gives me hope is this has been a winning organization for quite a while,” Lee said. “You got to expect the front office to make moves and do everything they can to keep that going.”
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Casper Wells was activated from the disabled list prior to Friday’s game.
Wells had been placed on the disabled list on August 26 with vision complications. Wells had LASIK surgery last offseason and complained of battling dryness in his eyes during games.
Wells, who is arbitration eligible this offseason, is expected to play winter ball.
Other Phillies that will play somewhere this winter, according to Sandberg: Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and pitchers Antonio Bastardo, Luis Garcia, J.C. Ramirez and Mauricio Robles. Sandberg said Hernandez is likely to experiment with playing either third base or left field this winter to increase his versatility.