Lee earns first win after strong outing vs. Mets

Lee earns first win after strong outing vs. Mets

Lee earns first win after strong outing vs. Mets
NEW YORK -- Cliff Lee won a baseball game Wednesday and the country celebrated with fireworks.

It seemed like the appropriate response considering the circumstances.

Lee, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, earned his first win of 2012 in his 14th start of the season, pitching eight innings in a 9-2 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field. If that seems like a long stretch without a win, it is. Lee entered the afternoon tied for the fifth-longest winless streak to start a season in the past 10 years.

But whatever, right?

"I think you guys made a bigger deal about it than I did," Lee said. "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, but to me it wasn't as big a deal as you guys wanted it to be for me."

Lee downplayed the significance of the occasion, but the streak seemed to weigh on him over the last month or so. And teammates certainly enjoyed watching him snap it with a well-pitched game. Fellow aces Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels snuck up behind Lee before his postgame TV interview and dumped Gatorade over his head.

Think the typically mild-mannered Halladay would be going through the trouble of dumping Gatorade over Lee's head if it wasn't a big deal?

"I didn't see it coming until it hit me," Lee said of the sports drink bath. "It was good."

Lee allowed seven hits, two runs, one walk, one home run and struck out nine to improve to 1-5. It looked like he was headed toward another loss after the sixth inning. The Phillies trailed, 2-0, and the offense could not do anything against Mets right-hander Chris Young.

Young retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced until Juan Pierre singled to center field to start the seventh inning. Chase Utley followed with a two-run home run to right field to make it 2-2. And Carlos Ruiz, unquestionably this team's first-half MVP, followed with a solo homer to left to hand the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

"He's obviously the heart and soul of this team and he has been that for years," Lee said of Utley. "It makes a big difference. When you get him back and with the way Chooch is swinging, hopefully we can get [Ryan] Howard back soon and we can be that much more of a threatening lineup. Chooch has been our team for a majority of the season. He's done everything well. The way he catches, the way he controls the game, he's a special talent and I'm glad he's on my team."

The Phillies added six more runs in the final two innings against the Mets' bullpen to give Lee plenty of breathing room. Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who hadn't pitched since June 26, pitched a scoreless ninth.

"We had Papelbon in there to secure that for Cliff," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said with a laugh. "We had to make sure we nailed that one down."

Lee had allowed five or more runs in his previous three starts, carrying an 8.64 ERA in that stretch. He also had a 5.68 ERA in his previous eight starts, blowing two three-run leads, one two-run lead and one one-run lead.

But Lee looked like himself Wednesday.

"He pitched a Lee game," Manuel said.

The Phillies hope there are more games like this in the second half because they desperately need Lee at the top of his game if they have any shot at all of competing for a postseason berth. Lee might have downplayed the fact he is 1-5, but the Phillies were 4-10 in his first-half starts.

Either poor run support, poor pitching or both contributed to that record.

"It's been disappointing to me personally because I've let innings snowball and turn into a bigger problem than they should be," Lee said. "It's been frustrating. It's been disappointing because we're in last place and we're a better team than that. Those two things for me are disappointing."

The All-Star break begins after Sunday's game against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, and it could come at a good time for Lee. He can clear his head and maybe come into the second half refocused and reenergized.

And win more.

"That's what it's designed for," Lee said of the All-Star break. "Take a break, get away from the game for a bit. Just relax. And look forward to the second half and try to put what's happened behind us. We should be doing that anyway. That's how I look at it. What's happened in the past is done and what can I do today to prepare for tomorrow?"

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