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Lee delivers in Classic opportunity

Lee delivers in Classic opportunity

NEW YORK -- Two innings. One hit. Three strikeouts.

All that hype, all that buildup and all that attention preceding Cliff Lee's start for the American League in the 79th All-Star Game, and that was the stat line he seamlessly delivered against the National League on Tuesday.

"I'll take it," Lee said. "Especially in an All-Star Game. The hitters they've got over there are some serious power threats. I'm pretty pleased to keep them from scoring."

Lee had plenty to be pleased about in his first All-Star experience. Upon his arrival with teammate Grady Sizemore to the Big Apple on Sunday night, he learned AL manager Terry Francona would be giving him the start in a game the AL ended up winning in 15 grueling innings.

The starting nod gave Lee the opportunity to be part of a special pregame ceremony in which 52 Hall of Famers stood on the field to greet the members of each starting lineup. Lee strutted out and shook hands with Dennis Eckersley, Bob Feller, Rollie Fingers, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Ferguson Jenkins, Juan Marichal, Phil Niekro, Jim Palmer, Gaylord Perry, Goose Gossage, Sandy Koufax, Whitey Ford, Robin Roberts, Don Sutton and Bruce Sutter.

"It was surreal seeing that many Hall of Fame pitchers in front of my face and getting to shake their hands," Lee said. "I don't know if there will ever be an opportunity to see that many Hall of Famers right in front of me ever again. It's a moment I'll never forget."

The most gratifying moment came when Sutton shook Lee's hand and told him he enjoys watching him pitch.

"For him to go out of his way to come over and tell me that was pretty neat," Lee said.

What followed was even better.

It didn't matter that 55,632 fans -- including his wife, two kids, parents, grandparents, sister, brother-in-law, niece, agent and financial advisor -- were in attendance for the final All-Star Game in the House That Ruth Built or that he was facing the best the NL has to offer. This start was like so many others for Lee in a season that has seen him to 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA thus far. He got ahead with his fastball and got quick outs.

In the first, Lee struck out Hanley Ramirez and Chase Utley, then got Lance Berkman to fly out to center. In the second, he retired Albert Pujols on a groundout, surrendered a ground-ball single to Chipper Jones, then got Matt Holliday to ground out and Ryan Braun to go down swinging.

"I'm happy I was able to throw strikes," Lee said. "Not that I was nervous, but I was worried about being a little too amped and throwing balls. I threw the first pitch for a strike, and that helped."

He didn't even mind his lone hiccup.

"Giving up the hit to Chipper Jones was the only bad thing," Lee said, "and he's hitting like .700, I think."

Sizemore, playing in his third consecutive All-Star Game as a reserve, finally got his first hit in the Midsummer Classic, and it was a big one. He ripped a ground-ball single off fellow lefty Billy Wagner with two outs to spark a rally in the eighth. Sizemore swiped second base, then came around to score when pinch-hitter Evan Longoria hit a ground-rule double to left. That run ended up sending the game into extra innings.

And because this game dragged on into the 15th, Sizemore, an All-Star reserve, ended up playing 10 innings.

"I got a full day's work in," he said with a smile.

It wasn't always a labor of love for Sizemore in extras. He did his part to prolong the longest Midsummer Classic in history. When he came to the plate with the bases loaded and none out in the 10th, Aaron Cook got him to ground into a forceout at the plate. He grounded out with a runner in scoring position in the 12th and struck out against Brandon Webb in the 14th.

With Francona forced to exhaust his pitching staff, it became possible that a position player might have to be tossed into duty on the mound. But Sizemore -- not exactly known for his arm -- knew it wouldn't be him.

"I'd probably be last on the mound," he said, "when it comes to position players in relief."

Sizemore was happy to see Lee get the opportunity to be first on the mound, and to shine on one of the game's grandest stages.

"He's been pitching like that all year," Sizemore said. "I can't say enough about how well he's doing this year."

Lee was the fifth Indians pitcher to get a start in an All-Star Game, joining Bob Feller (1941 and '46), Luis Tiant (1968), Gaylord Perry (1974) and Charles Nagy (1996).

Lee will remember many things about these two days in New York -- such as watching Josh Hamilton's majestic blasts in the Home Run Derby with his 7-year-old son, Jaxon, or taking part in the All-Star parade up Sixth Avenue.

"People [on the parade route] were telling me to come to the Yankees," Lee recalled with a smile.

Lee gave the Yankee fans further reason to want his services with his dominant All-Star outing.

"To make the All-Star team, for me, was the ultimate honor," he said. "To get the start was icing on the cake. It made it that much more special for me. I'm completely honored and all those words like that. I don't know how to describe it."

Describe it like this: Two innings. One hit. Three strikeouts. And a lifetime of fond memories.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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