The second-largest crowd to ever cram into Citizens Bank Park for a regular-season game came in search of the real Cliff Lee Monday, almost certain that was either Matt Beech or Omar Daal or some other forgettable lefthander who had confiscated Lee's uniform in recent starts.
Lee gave the kind of performance that has so endeared him to this city's baseball fans, pitching seven shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and one walk as the Phillies opened a 10-game homestand by scraping past the Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1.
Early on, it was no breeze for Lee. He used his resourcefulness to fight his way out of a couple of early jams before settling into the kind of groove that had been missing in some of his recent starts. A testament to his resilience: Lee is now 3-0 in his last five starts following a loss.
"They definitely made me work early," Lee said after raising his season total to a league-leading 100 strikeouts. "Honestly, I felt like I didn't have that great of command early in the game. The deeper I got, the better the command came around. I just got lucky that the spots I missed didn't happen to be down the middle, and the hits they got weren't big hits. I started using my curveball, and that was the big pitch for me tonight."
The Phillies gave Lee the support he would need in the third inning. After he was pulled after throwing 117 pitches, Antonio Bastardo pitched a clean eighth inning before Ryan Madson picked up a harrowing save, his 13th in 13 save opportunities.
Bastardo continued to emerge as a reliable setup man, the role that belonged to Madson before he became the closer.
"Bastardo's pretty good right now," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's very good. He can power you with his fastball."
Madson allowed a run before ending the game by striking out pinch-hitter Dioner Navarro, who represented the tying run.
Lee was looking to find his way after allowing 10 earned runs in his two previous starts covering 131/3 innings. In his last appearance, he was smacked around by the Nationals, who had six runs, seven hits, two homers, and three walks off him.
Few pitchers throw strikes as consistently as Lee, but there are strikes and there are quality strikes. He had been throwing too many pitches over the fat part of the plate.
"In about the fourth inning he found his curveball, and he got better after that," Manuel said.
It appeared Lee's troubles were about to continue when the Dodgers put runners on first and second with singles after he had thrown only four pitches. He missed on the first two pitches to Marcus Thames but got Thames to roll into a double play. He then struck out Matt Kemp to set in motion an impressive string of strikeouts.
By the end of the Dodgers' half of the sixth inning, Lee had 10 strikeouts, his sixth double-digit strikeout performance of the season and 15th of his career. Frequently, he got ahead of hitters in the count by using his curveball and cutter, then used a fastball consistently clocked at 93 m.p.h. as a hammer. In the sixth, he struck out the side. After he got Casey Blake looking for the second time, the Dodgers first baseman was ejected for griping about the call.
Lee went into the game leading the majors in strikeouts per nine innings with 10.13. He said he couldn't explain a strikeout total that's high for him.
For the most part, the Phillies have left Lee with little margin for error. This game was no different. The Phillies scrounged up two runs in the third, and Lee played a part, which is not unusual for a pitcher who takes the other facets of the game more seriously than most pitchers.
Wilson Valdez, playing shortstop while Jimmy Rollins rests his bruised right knee, began the third with a double and was bunted to third by Lee. Valdez scored on a single by Placido Polanco, and Ryan Howard picked up his 47th RBI with a single that scored Shane Victorino.
Lee's night was already finished when Carlos Ruiz banged a run-scoring double off the left-field wall to give Madson a 3-0 lead to protect.