Utley, Ruiz power Lee to first win
NEW YORK – This is what can happen when you have an accomplished bat in the middle of the order.
A game can change on one swing.
A straight-lining team can show a flicker of life.
And Cliff Lee can get a win.
Lee’s long wait for his first victory of the season ended Wednesday afternoon when the Phillies' bats awakened in the late innings en route to a 9-2 win over the New York Mets (see Instant Replay)
Save for an 0-2 mistake to Scott Hairston in the fourth inning, Lee pitched well all afternoon. He went eight innings, gave up two runs, walked one and struck out nine. Still, this was lining up to be another unfulfilling day for the lefthander because the offense was stymied for six innings by Mets righthander Chris Young.
The game turned in the top of the seventh. Young took a 2-0 lead to the mound. He had given up just two hits all day. Juan Pierre led off the inning with a single. Chase Utley followed with a ringing homer into the right-field seats to tie the game and the next batter, all-star Carlos Ruiz, homered into the leftfield seats to give the Phils a 3-2 lead that they never gave up.
Utley’s homer didn’t just help Lee win for the first time since Sept. 26. The win, which snapped a six-game losing skid, was the Phillies’ first since Utley returned from the disabled list a week ago.
“That’s a huge point in the game, a momentum changer,” Lee said of Utley’s homer.
One could almost sense the tightly wound Phillies exhaling after that three-run seventh inning. They also scored three in the eighth and three in the ninth. They still trail Washington by a dozen games in the NL East, but for one day, at least, they looked alive.
Entering the day, the Phillies were 4-31 when trailing after six innings.
“That’s been one of our biggest deals all year,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It’s been hard for us to come back late. Good teams, winning teams, do that. That made all the difference in the world.”
It had been a long first half of the season for Lee.
At times, he pitched very well and got nothing to show for it because of scant run support. Other times, he pitched poorly and gave away leads. He spent three weeks on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Everything added up to a zero in the win column – and the Phils were just 3-10 in his first 13 starts.
Though his body language spoke of a frustrated man, Lee said his winless streak didn’t bother him all that much.
"I think you guys made more of a big deal out of it than I did," he said, speaking to reporters. "I keep things simple. I try to give the team a chance to win every time. I would have loved to have had a win a long time ago. To me, it wasn’t as big a deal as you guys wanted it to be for me."
Lee had gotten in trouble recently by falling behind in counts and throwing balls over the heart of the plate.
“I was missing over the plate, getting in hitter-friendly counts,” Lee said. “Today, I obviously didn’t do that. Today, I got ahead more and was out of the heart of the plate. I got deep into the game and gave us a chance to win.”
Utley’s homer was his second since re-joining the club. He is 6 for 22 with a .304 on-base percentage. He said his knees felt good playing a day game after a night game. If Manuel sticks with his plan of two-games-on, one-off, Utley will not start Thursday night’s series finale behind Cole Hamels.
“We’ll talk about it,” Utley said.
Jonathan Papelbon got his first work in eight days in closing out the game. He lives!
Lee is a streaky pitcher and the Phillies hope he is about to go on one of his rolls, like he did last June and August. Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard are due back shortly after the all-star break. If Lee becomes Lee again and Utley keeps changing games with one swing, maybe, just maybe this team will make things interesting in the second half.
“The first half of the season was disappointing for me because I let innings snowball and become bigger problems than they should be,” Lee said. “It’s been disappointing because we’re in last place and we’re a better team than that.
“Chase is obviously the heart and soul of this team and has been for years. With him back and the way Chooch is swinging, hopefully we get Howard back soon and we’ll be that much more of a threatening lineup in the second half.”E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com