Cliff Lee was a big part of the Philadelphia Phillies' National League pennant in 2009. They hope he will be a part of something bigger this season. Tonight, he takes the ball for the Phillies in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park.
Lee shocked the world this past off-season by signing with Philadelphia, who traded him after the 2009 season following the acquisition of Roy Halladay. Lee flourished in his role as sidekick to the great Halladay, as he went 17-8 with a 2.46 earned run average.
He finished the season strong, going 8-1 with a 1.27 ERA over his last 11 regular-season starts.
"I've always been pretty loose, no matter what," Lee said. "There's no need to fake like there's some extra something. I mean, it is more important, there's no doubt about it. But the mood of the team and the attitude are still the same. We've been quiet, confident all year and backed it up. So I expect more of the same throughout the postseason."
Lee has been terrific in the postseason, going 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career playoff starts. Last year he was 3-0 with the Texas Rangers before losing twice in the World Series to the San Francisco Giants. He's never lost a Division Series game, posting a 3-0 mark to go along with a 1.11 ERA with Philadelphia and Texas over the past two years.
"Every year is a different year," Lee said. "It was different from the Phillies to the Rangers to back to the Phillies here. It was definitely fun each time, and I hope this time, we take it the next step."
Philadelphia grabbed a 1-0 series lead on Saturday, as Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez homered in the sixth inning to kick-start the Phillies' offense on their way to an 11-6 victory.
The Phillies trailed by three after Lance Berkman hit an early home run off Halladay, but Howard's blast put them ahead and Ibanez's two-run shot chased St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse. Philadelphia added five more runs in the next two innings to build an insurmountable lead.
The Phillies had a team-record 102 victories this season to win their fifth consecutive NL East crown, and the start of Saturday's game mirrored the disappointment of last year's playoff run, which ended in a loss to the Giants in the NLCS.
But as Howard's blast sailed out of the park, there was a sense that a turning point had emerged. While the Phillies continued to add runs, Halladay (1-0) closed out his eight-inning start by retiring 21 consecutive batters.
He allowed Berkman's homer in the first inning, but gave up a total of just three hits and a walk, while striking out eight. It wasn't a no-hitter, like his first postseason start last year, but it helped the Phillies get to the ninth with an 11-3 lead.
"That's why he's the best in the game," said Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. "I think we had good quality at-bats, but he just makes a good pitch when he needs to and gets out of a jam."
By contrast, Lohse shut down the Phillies early but ended up allowing six runs -- five earned -- in 5 1/3 innings.
Under the current NLDS format, the team that wins Game 1 has gone on to the NL Championship Series 29 of 32 times.
St. Louis will have its ace on the hill tonight, as Chris Carpenter starts on three days' rest for the first time in his career. He threw his second shutout of the season on Wednesday, beating the Houston Astros 8-0 in what became a playoff-clinching win for the Cardinals after the Atlanta Braves lost to the Phillies.
"I'm excited about it to be honest with you. I don't know if I've ever done it," Carpenter said. "I feel good. I feel like the day in Houston the other day I didn't work too hard, didn't throw too many pitches and I've come out of it nicely.
"I think it's on how I recover, not about my stuff. My stuff is fine. It's about how you recover. I've been recovering great all year in between starts."
Carpenter, who was 11-9 this year with a 3.45 ERA, has made nine postseason starts and is 5-2 with a 2.93 ERA. However, his last win in the playoffs came back in the 2006 World Series.
"We have confidence in everybody else, but Chris is our horse," said St. Louis manager Tony La Russa.
Carpenter, who is now lined up for a potential Game 5 start on full rest, has had success against the Phillies. Since 2005, he is 5-0 with a 2.38 ERA against them and is 3-0 with a 0.78 ERA in three starts against them since the beginning of the 2010 season.
"You're facing a team that obviously, from top to bottom, is tough at-bats against you," Carpenter said. "That's why they've won 100-something games and have been on top of their division for a while.
St. Louis won six of its nine meetings with the Phillies this season, including three of the four matchups in Philadelphia.