NEW YORK - What was the look? Was it disgust? Nonchalance? Patronization? You can start any of a number of places when breaking down the brilliance that took the mound wearing road gray last night. But if you really want to capture the essence that was Clifton Phifer Lee, if you really want to pinpoint the reason the Phillies walked into Yankee Stadium and grabbed a 1-0 World Series lead over Team October, then find a way to describe the look that crossed the ace lefthander's face after he casually fielded a Johnny Damon popup in the sixth inning.
As the ball rose against a backdrop of black night sky and began its descent toward the mound, Lee casually held his glove out to the side and made what might go down as the most unenthusiastic catch in postseason history.
But it wasn't the catch that told the story. No, it was the look that crossed his face after the play had been made - a slow roll of the eyes as he retrieved the ball from his glove and went back to his business.
Boredom. That's it. Cliff Lee looked bored. Bored with all of it - the six scoreless innings he had pitched to that point, the four strikeouts he had recorded against the two highest-paid hitters in the American League, the 83 pitches he had thrown to that point. After all of the buildup, the hype, the 7 days of anticipation leading up to his first World Series, this was it?
"You've got to go out there and think you're going to get everybody out, and think you can," Lee said after dominating the Yankees in a 6-1, complete-game victory that gave the Phillies their second straight win in a World Series opener. "I definitely do that. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky, but I definitely have confidence, there's no doubt about that."
That mentality is one of the big reasons Lee looks so at home with this Phillies team. Throughout the last 2 years, as the Phillies have accumulated a 19-5 postseason record, they have acted like a team that is supposed to be where they are. And last night, against a Yankees team that entered the night as a heavy favorite to win its 27th World Series, the Phillies again played like it.
They patiently battled Yankees ace lefty CC Sabathia, waiting until he threw strikes and then attacking. Sabathia held them to just four hits, but Chase Utley hit two solo home runs against him, one coming at the end of an epic, nine-pitch at-bat in the third inning, to become just the second lefthanded hitter in World Series history to hit two home runs off a lefthanded pitcher. (The other was a guy named Babe Ruth.) His second home run, a monstrous shot that sailed into the bleachers in right-center, came on an 0-2 pitch in the sixth inning and gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
By the end of the seventh, Sabathia had thrown 113 pitches, forcing Yankees manager Joe Girardi to go to his bullpen. There, the Phillies feasted, scoring four runs in the eighth and ninth innings - two of them on a two-out, bases-loaded single by Raul Ibanez in the eighth - to give Lee a comfortable 6-0 lead.
Not that he needed it.
Early on, it was apparent that Lee, who had allowed two earned runs in 24 1/3 inings in his first three playoff starts, was headed for yet another dominant outing. The first two times he faced Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, the two highest-paid hitters in the AL, he struck them out, battering them with his fastball and cutter, then mixing in his curveball and changeup to keep them off-balance.
He held Rodriguez hitless in four at-bats and struck him out three times, the last one coming with a man on second and one out in the ninth. Teixeira did not fare much better, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
"Everybody talks about the cutter, but he's got stuff moving in different directions," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He not only can speed you up with a fastball and cutter inside . . . but he's got that changeup that's going down and away. It's tough to cover two sides of the plate at different speeds the way Cliff can do, and it makes it doubly tough for hitters."
But while the results were impressive - nine innings, six hits, one unearned run that came on a Jimmy Rollins throwing error in the ninth inning, 10 strikeouts, and no walks - even more so was the almost-comatose nature in which he compiled them.
While various Phillies players and personnel laughed after the game about his grab of Damon's popup - "He was trying to pull a Willie Mays on us or something," manager Charlie Manuel said - Lee shrugged it off.
"I don't know, it's 15 feet in the air and it came right to me," said Lee, who lowered his postseason ERA to 0.54. "It was a pretty simple catch."
The same can't be said of his behind-the-back stop of a screaming one-hopper from Robinson Cano in the eighth inning. After making an easy throw to first base, Lee allowed a smile to cross his face, then shrugged his shoulders before returning to the mound.
"It's been a long time since I've been nervous playing this game," Lee said. "I've already done the work - it's game time, time to go out there and have fun and execute and let your skills take over."
Turns out, Lee wasn't bored.
Like his Phillies teammates, he was just having a heck of a lot of fun.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read
David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese.