There's nothing quite like a night in South Philly where the Phillies bats take it to your division rivals' starting pitching while Cliff Lee simply dominates on the mound.
The Phillies took it to the Braves early and often on Monday night.
After Shane Victorino led off the game with a weak groundout, Placido Polanco slapped a single to center, Chase Utley ripped one to right, and Ryan Howard walked to load the bases with only one out for Hunter Pence. Pence got the Phillies on the board by squeezing a ball through the middle on the left side, just past Braves third baseman Martin Prado. It scored Polanco easily from third and Utley got a fantastic jump from second to come around and score without a throw to put the Phillies up 2-0 early.
Victorino helped Clifton out in the top of the fourth when newly reacquired Brave Matt Diaz hit a ball just about as far as you can at Citizens Bank Park without it leaving the yard. Diaz smacked one to the AutoTrader.com sign right in front of the Phillies bullpen in center field, it had to have been about 385 or so feet, but Vic got a great jump and tracked it down. He looked a bit like a wide receiver making an over-the-shoulder grab in football, catching the ball in stride before a solid thump into the wall.
Runs and Runs and Runs
The Phillies got to Lowe again in the bottom half of the 4th when John Mayberry Jr. led off with a walk and Chooch reached on an error at short by Alex Gonzalez. Martinez then sac'd them over and Lee grounded out for the second out. Victorino continued working his hot bat by ripping another ball juuuust out of the reach of Prado at third. Mayberry scored easily from third and Chooch came rumbling around third and beat the throw at home with a nice slide on a bang-bang play. Chooch was quite excited about being safe.
Victorino later tried to score on a passed ball and attempted a ninja-avoidance maneuver to deke out Derek Lowe. Vic was called out, but after watching the replay, it appeared as if Shane's craftiness led to his hand touching home prior to being tagged by Lowe. Sneaky. But he was called out.
Howard showed off some sick defense of his own, making an absolutely fantastic catch on an Alex Gonzalez foul along the warning track on the first base side. Howard has made a number of basket catches in that vicinity this season, but this one was the most circus-like, with the Big Piece not only sliding, but basically making the catch while being completely horizontal on the ground.
It was so impressive the fans in attendance gave Howard a brief standing ovation following the play. Unfortunately, one almost messed the play up, going full extension with his glove into the field of play but just shy of disrupting Howard.
Chase Utley added some excitement of his own in the bottom of the fifth when he hit long, high fly ball that bounced at the very top of the wall in right. The ball bounced so hard off the green/concrete part of the wall that it nearly reached the middle of the outfield, setting up one of those moments where you wondered if Utley would be sent around third for the potential inside-the-park homer. Juan Samuel decided to hold Utley at third, but for a split second as Utley was rounding second and heading to third, there was that rare anticipation of a potential play at the plate. For a 3B coach who makes plenty of questionable decisions, I would have loved to see him send Chase there.
Howard was intentionally walked in the next at bat and Hunter Pence made them pay by ripping a double right passed the bag at first, scoring Utley to put the Phillies up 5-0. John Mayberry Jr. then walked to load the bases and Carlos Ruiz smacked the first pitch from Derek Lowe to center, scoring Howard and Pence easily. 7-0 Phils.
In a wonderful moment to put an exclamation point on the night, Howard destroyed a top-spun home run into the stands in right which was snagged in the air by a fan wearing a red Ryan Howard shirsey. The fans reaction was awesome, like nobody in the park could have been happier to catch a Big Piece bomb. That made it 8-0.
Lee was brilliant on the evening, allowing only 5 hits (3 of which were infield singles), and retiring 16-straight batters at one point. He also made a heck of a snatch on a liner up the middle in the eighth inning which led to an easy double play. To show he brings it in all facets of his game, Clifton ripped a single up the middle in the bottom half of the inning to add to his tally in the Mackanin Contest. He would later come around to score on a Placido Polanco single to cap it off at 9-0. His final line on the evening: 9 IP, 5 hits, 6 Ks, 0 BBs.
It was Cliff's 16th win of the season, as well as his sixth shutout. Before 2010, Phifer had five career complete game shutouts. He's also 7-0 in his last seven starts with a 0.96 ERA. All the numbers aside, the most impressive thing is just seeing these flailing attempts at getting on base end in easy infield plays. Lee is locked in.
more from the Phillies post-game in a bit…