Cliff Lee notched four RBIs and 14 strikeouts in the Phillies' 12-2 win over the Marlins. (USA Today Images)
The slogan on the new T-shirts the Phillies were sporting around the clubhouse on Monday afternoon was perfect. Too perfect given the way Monday night’s 12-2 win over the Marlins unfolded at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
On the front of the shirt was a big picture of Cliff Lee’s face, his hair sweaty and disheveled, sporting a few days of growth on his face with an intense look.
Beneath the picture read the phrase, “I’m Different.”
Yes, Lee’s teammates know him all too well.
Lately, Lee’s performances on the mound have been extraordinary, but Monday night’s was extraordinarily different. See, not only did Lee pitch eight innings for the third game in a row to go with a season-high 14 strikeouts to earn his 14th win of the season, but he also went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and the first triple of his career.
Afterwards, manager Ryne Sandberg said all Lee could talk about was his triple.
“Oh, yeah. He couldn't be more happy about his hitting,” Sandberg said. “We just wanted him to go out and concentrate on his pitching.”
Lee became the first Phillies pitcher to get three hits and four RBIs in a game since a right-hander named “Fidgety” Phil Collins did it in an 11-5 win over the Pirates on July 22, 1930. In that one, Fidgety Phil slugged two homers, which is the way Lee would have preferred to do it rather than hustling around the bases for a stand-up triple.
But that’s all in the game for Lee, who doesn’t play like the typical pitcher. He runs the bases hard, hustles down the line on sacrifice bunts and makes plays in the field, like the one in the second inning when Chase Utley scooped the ball out of his glove to Lee’s bare hand to narrowly rob Logan Morrison of an infield single.
Though he says he’d rather trot around the bases and back to the dugout, Lee isn’t bashful about being a real baseball player as opposed to just a pitcher.
He’s different that way.
“When you’re on the bases it usually means you did something productive,” Lee said. “You worked your way on base. Once you’re there you have to run the bases.
“I try to do everything I can to help the team win. I take it all serious.”
With a .179 batting average and six RBIs, Lee says he is leading the pitchers’ season-long hitting competition. Hardly a friendly competition, Lee is still looking for his first win despite hitting two homers with seven RBIs and a .200 batting average in 2011.
Regardless, Sandberg said he wanted Lee to concentrate on his pitching and there was room for hitting and pitching on Monday night.
In improving to 14-6 with a 2.95 ERA, Lee surpassed the 200-strikeout plateau for the third straight season, as well as the 200-innings marker for the sixth straight year. He also became the first Phillies pitcher to get 14 strikeouts without allowing a walk since Curt Schilling did it against the Yankees on Sept. 1, 1997.
More importantly, Lee gave the bullpen a break after an arduous weekend in Washington. Since the All-Star break, Phils pitchers not named Lee or Cole Hamels have a 7.58 ERA. That means a lot of work for the relievers.
But it’s essentially a night off when Lee takes the mound. He has pitched eight innings in his last three starts, as well as in five of his last seven outings. During that span, Lee has a 4-1 record with a 2.25 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 52 innings.
Lee says he doesn’t try to get strikeouts but sometimes they are a circumstance of the game. With a big lead thanks to a six-run third inning, Lee could keep his approach simple and be aggressive. Strikeouts come quickly when all a pitcher does is throw strikes.
“Just being ahead in the count and pounding the strike zone -- I had a lot of two-strike counts,” Lee said. “I’m not really trying to strike guys out, to be honest with you. I’m just continuing to try and throw strikes and that’s a factor of when you throw strikes and they weren’t squaring it up.”
With a 70-80 record and two more starts likely for Lee, the Phillies' focus is on finishing the season strong. As Lee says, the idea is to play out the season until it’s over whether that means a trip to the playoffs or not.
“That’s part of winning. No matter what team you’re on and no matter what the circumstances are, you have to play hard and you can’t take a single play off or a single pitch off or anything,” Lee said. “It’s about being aggressive and being in the moment and being in tune with what’s going on. If everyone is doing that and everyone is prepared the right way, I like our chances. We have talent. It’s just a matter of executing and staying aggressive.”
The series continues on Tuesday night when Roy Halladay (3-4, 7.28) faces lefty Brian Flynn (0-1, 10.13). Halladay has faced the Marlins twice this year, including the May 5 outing in which he gave up nine runs on four hits and four walks. It was shortly after that game when Halladay learned he needed to have surgery on his right shoulder.