Cliff Lee silences Rangers’ bats, in 2-0 Phillies win

Posted by Mike Frohwirth

(Note: The following post is free of Rapture puns and/or references. If you crave such puns and/or references, please visit one of the other 847 Phillies blogs.)

In a game that Fox Television thought was only of interest to a small, select portion of the country, the NL-leading Philadelphia Phillies defeated the defending AL Champion Texas Rangers, 2-0. Phillies' #3 starter Cliff Lee, who won three postseason games for Texas in 2010, limited his former team to five scattered singles, over eight strong innings. Ryan Madson, his closer's mentality no longer latent, finished up for his ninth save in as many opportunities. The shutout was Philadelphia's league-leading seventh of the season.

Lee had little difficulty with Texas' bats, striking out ten Rangers, while walking two, as he rebounded from an uncharacteristic six-walk performance in his previous outing. Lee threw one-hundred and twenty-two pitches, eighty-five for strikes. The high pitch count is a potential concern, as Phillies' Manager Charlie Manuel continues to ride his starters hard, despite a strong performance to-date by the Phils' bullpen. Lee has thrown one-hundred and twenty-two pitches in each of his previous two starts, and has thrown at least one-hundred and thirteen pitches in four of his last five appearances. Lee was allowed to bat in the seventh inning, after having already thrown one-hundred pitches. As the Phils' had a 2-0 lead, and Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson available to finish the Rangers off, it seemed an opportune time to pinch-hit for Lee. Though Lee had singled (and stolen second!) earlier in the game, it might have be prudent to pull Lee at one-hundred pitches, and allow Michael Martinez to ground out weakly to second base as a pinch-hitter. It's a long season, and considering the inability of the Phillies' offense to actually produce offense, the team is going to need their pitching to stay healthy, and pitch deep into games in October. Hopefully, when Jose Contreras and Brad Lidge return to bullpen action, Manuel will be less reticent to remove his starting pitchers.

Rangers' starter Colby Lewis was the latest beneficiary of the lethargic Phillies' offense, surrendering two runs, on seven hits, in his six and two-thirds innings. (Lewis also continues to benefit from likely-unsustainable BABIP-luck, and is a good sell-high candidate for fantasy owners.) Phillies' First Baseman Ryan Howard provided all of the scoring the Phils would need, snapping an Ibanez-esque 0 for 23 slump, with a second-inning homer (his tenth of the season). Howard, who was two-for-four on the evening, had been hitless since May 13th. The Phillies scored their other run in the sixth inning, when John Mayberry, Jr., playing center field in the place of the disabled Shane Victorino, knocked in Raul Ibanez with a two-out single.

Domonic Brown, who had been on the Disabled List since Spring Training, made his first MLB appearance of 2011, playing right field, and batting second. Yep. Manuel really batted him second. While it was an improvement over the likes of recent two-hole choices Martinez and Wilson Valdez, it was still an inexplicable selection for such a crucial spot in the batting order. At the plate Brown seemed overmatched, going hitless in four at-bats, with a pair of strikeouts, and five runners left-on-base. His defensive performance was error-free, and replete with circuitous routes on fly balls that made Phillies' fans miss Victorino just a little bit less. Despite his inauspicious season debut, Brown is a top prospect, and should be a contributor as the season progresses. At worst, he should still be an upgrade over Ben Francisco.

If you were among the legion of Phillies' fans who missed the FOX broadcast, you missed a mid-inning interview with Rangers' ace C.J. Wilson which, while a bit long, made viewers wonder why FOX can't employ analysts like Rangers' ace C. J. Wilson. There werealso several troubling mispronunciations, such as the difficult polysyllabic name "Valdez." But the broadcast was lowlighted by a (tribute?) to baseball by (comedian?) Jerry Seinfeld, which could be best-described by an infinite string of increasingly-virulent expletives. (If you wish to recreate this experience for yourself, simply remove your ears and eyelids with a rusty putty knife, and watch Michael Martinez' plate appearances on an endless loop.) It's puzzling that FOX and MLB won't allow the alternate broadcasts to be viewed by MLB.TV/MLB Extra Innings subscribers, but this exclusivity issue doesn't appear likely to change soon. The broadcasts will probably stop being mute-worthy before that happens.

The Phillies will try to finish off the three-game series sweep on Sunday, with the Roy Oswalt opposed by Texas' southpaw Matt Harrison. The pitching matchup clearly favors the Phillies, but with Ben Francisco and Dane Sardinha likely to be in the Phillies' lineup, the Phils will need another strong performance from Oswalt.