'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

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'Different' Lee dominates in Phils' win over Fish

BOX SCORE

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.

Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

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Yordano Ventura, Andy Marte die in separate Dominican crashes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Yordano Ventura quit school as a teenager so he could begin working a construction job to help his family make ends meet, laboring day after day in the hot sun of the Dominican Republic.

It was a chance tryout with the Kansas City Royals that changed the trajectory of his life.

Yordano wowed scouts with an electrifying fastball, the best they had seen in years, and a confident demeanor that bordered on brash and arrogant. And both of those traits served him well as he rocketed to the major leagues, helped the Royals win a long-awaited World Series championship in 2015, and became one of the most popular players in a city that embraced baseball one again.

Ventura, whose nickname "Ace" fit so perfectly, died Sunday in a car crash on a stretch of highway near the town of San Adrian in his native Dominican Republic. He was 25.

"Our team and our organization is hurting deeply," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. "It's certainly something that puts everything into strong perspective, and challenges us all to never grow tired or weary or cease to do what is right, and loving others. Nobody is guaranteed tomorrow.

"We loved Yordano," Moore said. "We loved his heart, we loved who he was as a teammate, a friend. He was somebody that challenged us all and made us better and I'm going to miss him."

Highway patrol spokesman Jacobo Mateo said Ventura died on a stretch of highway 40 miles northwest of Santo Domingo, the nation's capital. Mateo did not say whether Ventura was driving.

He's the second young star pitcher to die in past four months. Marlins ace Jose Fernandez was 24 when he was killed along with two other men in a boating accident near Miami Beach in late September.

Also Sunday, former major league infielder Andy Marte died in a separate car accident in the Dominican Republic. Metropolitan traffic authorities said he died about 95 miles north of the capital.

"I was traveling to the airport this morning and I got a phone call wanting to know if I'd heard about Yordano, and I thought they meant Marte," Moore said. "My first thought was, `Were they together?'

"Then shortly afterwards, I got a call from Major League Baseball confirming this tragedy."

The Dominican Republic has the second-highest traffic-related death rate in the world -- officials there believe alcohol, speed and a blatant disregard for traffic laws is to blame. Oscar Taveras, Jose Oliva, Rufino Linares and Jose Uribe are among players who have died in crashes in the country.

It wasn't known whether Ventura had been drinking or speeding at the time of his accident.

Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, a fellow Dominican whom Ventura called his hero, posted pictures of Ventura and Marte on Twitter and said, "Guys, the only way we can pay tribute to you, is by reflecting on the adjustments we all have to make in this game called life."

Moore speaks frequently with Latin American players about dangers of returning home, including driving on the perilous roads.

"I'm more intentional about it to the point where it probably goes in one ear and out the other," Moore said, "but we're constantly discussing these things."

The Royals lowered flags at Kauffman Stadium to half-staff Sunday, and displayed Ventura's photograph on the large, crown-shaped scoreboard in centerfield of the empty ballpark. Fans were leaving flowers, hats and other mementos within hours of learning of his death.

Royals teammates learned the news in a text chain and took to Twitter to share their sorrow.

"I love you my brother. I'm in disbelief and don't know what to say," first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Third baseman Mike Moustakas also expressed disbelief, tweeting: "I love you Ace. I don't know what to say other than I'm going to miss you a lot. RIP ACE."

Ventura will be buried Tuesday in the Dominican Republic. Moore, manager Ned Yost and other members of the Royals are planning to attend.

Before his start in Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, Ventura paid tribute to Taveras, his close friend and countryman who had been killed days earlier in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" on his hat and also wrote messages on his glove, cleats and the mound before shutting out San Francisco for seven innings in a win.

"If he was still here, I would for sure be talking to him, and Oscar would be very happy for me," Ventura said afterward. "Oscar was a very humble guy and very likable, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

Ventura signed a $23 million, five-year deal with the Royals shortly before he started on opening day in 2015. He then helped them bounce back from their loss to the Giants in Game 7 by returning to the World Series and beating the New York Mets in five games for their first crown since 1985.

The right-hander went 11-12 with a 4.45 ERA last season, and his fiery demeanor was never more evident than when he hit Orioles star Manny Machado with a fastball to trigger a brawl. Ventura was suspended nine games for the pitch, though it was cut to eight on appeal.

In a surreal coincidence, the 33-year-old Marte played his final game in the big leagues for Arizona on Aug. 6, 2014. Ventura started that game for Kansas City.

"Today is a very sad day for our entire game and particularly for the many loyal fans in the Dominican Republic, the home of both Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte," Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

Said players' union head Tony Clark: "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and there are no words to describe the feeling of losing two young men in the prime of their lives. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families, friends, teammates and fans throughout the United States and Latin America."

Moore said he spoke to Miami general manager Mike Hill early Sunday, in part because Moore admired the grace and heart in which the Marlins organization dealt with Fernandez's death.

It wasn't certain whether Fernandez was driving the boat when it crashed on Sept. 25. He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.147, above Florida's legal limit of 0.08, according to autopsy reports released by the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.

"That was one of the first things that came to mind when I began to figure out how we were going to process this," Moore said. "Mike was able to provide some insight. Just give me some comfort, really."

Ventura wound up pitching his entire career for the Royals, going 38-31 with a 3.89 ERA.

Born June 3, 1991, in Samana, Dominican Republic, Ventura was a true rags-to-riches story. He quit school at 14 and was laboring on a construction crew to support his family when he heard about a tryout, which led to a spot in the Royals' academy located on his picturesque island home.

Still, the odds were long that Ventura would ever make it to the big leagues. Very few players from the Dominican academies reached the pinnacle of the sport.

But over time, Ventura was able to harness one of the most electric fastballs that scouts had seen in years, and his headstrong and confident nature was essential to his rapid rise. He made his debut to great fanfare in 2013, allowing just one run again Cleveland in a sign of things to come.

He eventually became a cornerstone of a youth movement that included young stars such as Hosmer and Moustakas, one that carried the Royals first to respectability, then to the top of the American League.

He was 14-10 with a 3.20 ERA in 2014, his first full season in the big leagues, and helped the Royals reach the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades. Then he helped to lead them back to the Fall Classic in 2015, this time completing the job on a crisp night in New York.

"He always had a zest for life, an innocence about the game, a freshness, a fearlessness," Moore said, his voice cracking. "He was a very compassionate human being, loved to compete, no doubt challenged us, but that made us better. Nobody could ever doubt how much he cared about his teammates, how much he cared about the fans, and how much he loved to compete and to pitch."

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.