Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

Cliff Lee tames Braves, gives Phils first win

April 4, 2013, 11:00 pm

Cliff Lee pitched eight scoreless innings in the Phillies' 2-0 win over the Braves. (USA Today Images)

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA -- For a hitter, the weather was frightful Thursday night at Turner Field. Forty degrees at game time. Wind blowing in. Chilly mist falling.

Cliff Lee made the elements work for him.

“It was cold, but as a pitcher, I don’t mind it,” Lee said. “I just tried to attack the strike zone, throw strikes, get ahead and make them swing their way on base. I tried to locate my fastball and when they got on the fastball, throw something else.”

Lee’s plan worked.

On a tough night to hit, he pitched eight innings of two-hit, shutout ball to help the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 2-0, for their first win of the season (see Instant Replay).

The Phils headed home late Thursday night at 1-2.

That sounds a lot better than 0-3 -- especially during introductions before Friday’s home opener.

“Without a doubt,” manager Charlie Manuel said with a laugh. “We’ve got hope now.”

Lee did what Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay couldn’t do in the first two games of their series. He iced a powerful Braves’ lineup that hit six homers and scored 16 runs in the first two games.

Lee allowed just two singles, did not walk a batter and struck out eight.

“He commanded and controlled the game,” Manuel said.

“It was a tough night to play a baseball game and he made it look easy,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

Lee got into such a good groove that Manuel let him pitch the eighth inning even though he was at 98 pitches and Mike Adams, the team’s new eighth-inning man, was warm in the bullpen.

Adams will get plenty of chances to protect leads before this season is out. The Phillies blew 13 eighth-inning leads last year. Lee protected this one himself with an eight-pitch inning. He threw 106 pitches in all and 78 were strikes.

“I thought about using Adams, but Lee had pitched so well the last few innings we stuck with him,” Manuel said.

Lee didn’t get his first win until July 4 last season. He got his first of 2013 on April 4.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” he joked after the game.

Lee had a tough first half last season. He spent some time on the disabled list, received poor run support, and had trouble protecting a few leads.

But his second half was brilliant. He had a 2.45 ERA in 16 starts, struck out 109 and walked eight. By the end of the season, he finished in the top 10 in the National League in ERA (3.16) and WHIP (1.114) for one of the best six-win seasons you’ll ever see.

One of Lee’s best feats of 2012 was his finishing the season by pitching at least six innings and walking one or zero batters in 17 straight starts. That is a major-league record. Make it 18 after this one.

“I felt strong the whole time,” he said. “The cold didn’t bother me. When it’s 95 degrees it’s more taxing.”

Offensively, the Phils left 26 men on base in the series, including nine Thursday night. Eight of their LOBs came in the first four innings against Atlanta right-hander Kris Medlen, who had unusual control problems. The Phils got hits from Laynce Nix and Erik Kratz to open the second and Lee followed with a walk to load the bases. The Phils ended up scoring a pair of runs on a groundout by Ben Revere and a sacrifice fly by Chase Utley, who drove six of the Phils’ nine runs in the series.

“We’re going to score runs with this lineup,” Manuel said. “We’ll get it going.”

On nights when it’s not there, it’s nice to have well-pitched game like the one Cliff Lee delivered.

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