LOS ANGELES -- Ryne Sandberg has displayed a little managerial wizardry, a little Ryno Magic, the last couple of days.
On Sunday, he used John Mayberry Jr. as a late-game defensive replacement for hard-handed first baseman Ryan Howard. The move proved auspicious when Mayberry dug a ball out of the dirt to preserve a one-run victory in Denver.
Monday night, Sandberg mixed up a lineup potion that had Carlos Ruiz in the cleanup hole even though the Phillies' catcher did not have a home run or an RBI in 49 at-bats this season.
Ruiz drove in four runs, two on a first-inning double and two more on a ninth-inning home run, to help propel the Phillies to a 7-0 win over the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium (see Instant Replay).
Of course, Ruiz was only part of an ensemble effort in the Phillies' winning cause.
Howard homered for the second straight game, giving him five in 19 games. His long, two-run shot to right-center against lefty Paul Maholm gave the Phils a 4-0 lead in fifth. Howard added an opposite-field single in the seventh as the Phils finished with 11 hits. They had 15 on Sunday.
The star of the game had just one single and struck out twice.
We’re talking, of course, about Cliff Lee. As good as Ruiz and Howard were -- and as good as Chase Utley’s defensive gem in the first inning was -- Lee was the star. He allowed just four hits over eight shutout innings, did not walk a batter and struck out 10.
Since being roughed up for eight runs in five innings on opening day in Texas, Lee has made four starts and allowed just four runs over 30 innings. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio in those four starts is an eye-popping 37-to-1.
Lee was coming off a start in which he struck out 13 Atlanta Braves but took a 1-0 loss because the Phillies, as they are wont to do, didn’t hit.
This time, they hit.
Lee was so good that Ruiz's two-run double in the first was enough for him.
“That was huge,” Lee said of Ruiz's opposite-field double. “An early lead is definitely good for the pitchers. We did that and we extended the lead; Howard hit that two-run homer to give us a four-run lead. That definitely makes it easier on the pitchers to go out there, be aggressive, and throw strikes.”
And Lee did plenty of that.
“Cliff was outstanding,” Sandberg said. “He’s pitched well all year.
“He just dominated the strike zone. He pitched well inside and out, and as he went along mixed in breaking pitches. But he was in total control out there.
“He’s just a quality pitcher. He gets after it. He’s a gamer. He’s a battler. His command was pinpoint. He worked well with Chooch all night.”
Lee is 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in five starts at Dodger Stadium.
Sandberg gave Marlon Byrd his first night off of the season and batted Howard fifth, as he will do against left-handed pitchers. In need of a cleanup man, Sandberg went to Ruiz, who has hit second, third, sixth and seventh this season.
Now he can add cleanup to the list.
“He’s a versatile hitter,” Sandberg said of Ruiz. “Facing a lefty -- sometimes that will give a guy like him a boost. Obviously he came through in a big way. He swung the bat well in the four spot.”
Ruiz was aware that he did not have a home run or an RBI.
“It can happen,” he said. “When you don’t swing the bat real good, it’s hard to get some RBIs. For me, I've been working the count and going from there. If I was thinking about not having an RBI, I'd be putting pressure on myself. So I had to stay strong and continue to work hard.”
Ruiz's two-run double in the first was important because it gave the Phillies an early lead. The Dodgers had been 11-2 when they scored first. Lee registered a shutdown inning in the bottom of the first thanks to Utley’s defensive gem. He halted Adrian Gonzalez's base hit in shallow center field, wheeled and threw home to prevent hard-rushing Yasiel Puig from scoring from second.
Lee was appreciative.
“It was definitely advanced,” Lee said of Utley's play, which resembled the famous one he made in the 2008 World Series. “That just shows he's one step ahead of the game. Maybe he could get the guy at first, but he had a pretty good idea of how Puig would be running the bases and he was dead on. He was aggressively rounding third and going home. Chase anticipated that and got him out. That's advanced. That just shows how he's one step ahead and is a prime example of the kind of player he is.”