Cliff Lee’s month of June 2011 remains unfathomable

By Tim Kelly, Sports Talk Philly editor

Cliff Lee's not going to the Hall of Fame. He never won a World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies (or anyone), although it's hard to blame him for that. Based off of some of the recent additions, he probably deserves to eventually be inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame, though it's unclear if that will ever happen. So when I tell my future kids about the dominance of Lee, it will be hard for them to truly appreciate the Hall of Fame level that Lee pitched at during his peak. Perhaps referring them to what he did during June of 2011 would be a good place to start. 

In June of 2011, Lee had perhaps the greatest month that a Phillies starting pitcher has ever had. 

Lee's first start of the month was his least impressive, which is pretty crazy when you consider that he struck out 10 Los Angeles Dodgers. He did scatter seven hits, but didn't allow one run over seven innings. Five days later, Lee remained impressive against the Chicago Cubs, as he allowed just four hits over eight innings of work. He did allow one earned run, but it turned out to be the only earned run that he would allow all month. 

The Phillies welcomed the Miami Marlins to Citizens Bank Park on June 16, which is when Lee really locked in. Despite only striking out four, Lee went the distance against a Marlins lineup that featured Hanley Ramirez and a young Giancarlo Stanton, picking up his second of six complete games on the season after allowing just two hits. In his only start away from Citizens Bank Park that month, Lee went into St. Louis on June 22, tossing yet another complete game against Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and the eventual World Series champion Cardinals. 

On June 28, 2011, Lee pitched in front of what may have been the most electric atmosphere Citizens Bank Park has ever seen during the regular season. At this point in the season, both teams had the best record in their respective leagues and were the prohibited World Series favorites. Lee took a no-hitter into the sixth inning that night, eventually capping off an incredible month of May with two-hit, complete game shutout. This was Lee's third complete game of the month, and the fourth time in five tries in the month of June that he went at least eight innings. It came in front of a stadium that ESPN estimated was nearly 105 percent full. 

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Lee finished the month of June 2011 with a 5-0 record, an 0.21 ERA, just one earned run and three complete games in 42.0 innings. To put in perspective how impressive throwing 42 innings in five starts is, Lee made seven starts in the previous month, totaling 47.2 innings. Lee rode the month of June to his third All-Star appearance, and a third-place finish in the National League Cy Young voting. In many years, Lee's month of June would have propelled him to winning the Cy Young, but unfortunately for him, two future Hall of Famers, Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay, finished above him that year. 

Lee's month coincided with the most magical regular season in club history. After turning down bigger offers from the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers that offseason, Lee returned to the Phillies, joining a rotation that already featured Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. If you weren't at Citizens Bank Park that summer, it's hard to describe the level of pride that swelled from Phillies fans.

In the midst of Lee's performance against the Red Sox, a Boston fan sitting in front of me asked for a beer. A group of Phillies fans immediately yelled to the vendor not to serve him because he was a Red Sox fan. The vendor took one look around, before a brief smirk came over his face. I didn't get to see the smirk turn into a full smile, because, as you can guess, the vendor pretended not to hear the Red Sox fan asking for the beer and walked away. It was the type of moment that would have been taken out of context nationally, but for a brief moment, the national opinion of Philadelphia didn't matter. Lee wasn't even the best pitcher on his own team, which is indicative of the fact that in 2011, the baseball world revolved around Philadelphia. 

Since Lee last pitched in 2014, not much has been heard from him. His agent made it known that he was willing to attempt a comeback prior to the 2016 season, but one never materialized. Through his agent, Lee issued a statement after the sudden passing of Halladay, and was seen at Halladay's public memorial. But other than being retired from baseball, it's unclear exactly what the 38-year-old is up to on a day-to-day basis in June of 2018. But six years later, it's hard not to look back in awe of what he was able to do in June of 2011.