Wu-Tang Forever: Cliff Lee's Ridiculous Start Ends Ridiculous Month, Phils Lose Anyway

Wu-Tang Forever: Cliff Lee's Ridiculous Start Ends Ridiculous Month, Phils Lose Anyway

If you didn't know better watching the Phils last night, you might have thought they were actually playing for something. Well, actually, that's not true at all--the offense looks like it packed it in months ago, and the Fightins continued their prodigious recent output at the plate last night with a mere two hits, two walks and zero runs. (The Phils have now scored an average of one run a game over their last five outings.)

But oh man, that boy Cliff Lee. If the Phils officially had lost motivation to do anything else but secure a bottom-ten record at season's end, apparently no one told Clifton Pfifer. He made the NL's best team look positively Single A-ish last night, striking out 13 batters--six in a row at one point-- and giving up just three hits while walking none in eight innings of work.

If you're thinking to yourself "wait, those numbers sound kind of familiar," that might be because he had an outing nearly as ridiculous against the Marlins just a week-and-a-half ago. In fact, this whole month has been pretty damn nutso for the Pfife Dog, who has an ERA of just 1.85 in his five September starts, while striking out 54 batters and walking just one.

You might want to read those numbers again. 54 strikeouts. Just one walk. Even if you were facing no one but Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia for a whole month, that'd be damn impressive.

Matter of fact, it's damn near unprecedented. No pitcher has ever struck out 50 batters in a month without giving up more than a single walk. According to NBC Sports, it's only the 48th time since 1901 that a pitcher has struck out 54 batters over five starts, regardless of how many walks they've given up. Cliff's had some pretty ridiculous months in his career--he only let up one run in all of June 2011, you might recall--but September '13 is as dominant as he's ever been on the mound.

Of course, it's barely mattered at all, since not only are the Phils long out of contention, but they haven't felt like scoring much for him lately, meaning that a golfed Chris Johnson solo shot to left that just barely crept over the wall last night was more than enough to fell the Fightins. The Phils have now lost eight of their last nine, all but guaranteeing them that bottom-ten record. (If the season ended today, they'd be tied with the Rockies for seventh-worst.) Perhaps it's for the best, but it's a shame to see Cliff Lee making history in the dark like this.

In any event, we gotta give it up to our ace for giving us one source of pride in an otherwise fairly shameful couple weeks of Phillies baseball. And if not for Clayton Kershaw, who's been doing historic things basically all season in Los Angeles, Lee's excellent final line of 14-8, 2.87 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, and a 6.94 K/BB ratio--his third time leading the league in that category--would certainly put him in contention for his second Cy Young trophy. Good show, Cliff.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.