Lee comes up big in Philadelphia debut

Lee comes up big in Philadelphia debut

PHILADELPHIA -- As far as beginnings go, Cliff Lee's was an utter disaster.

The Phillies' prized pitching acquisition was staring at a 1-0 deficit Thursday afternoon before many in the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park found their seats.

A double, single and sacrifice fly vaulted the Colorado Rockies on top with just one out, and you could hear a hush -- no, make that moans -- throughout the cozy ballpark.

Was this the vaunted Lee whose arrival strengthens the Phillies' chances of repeating as World Series champions?

It was a nightmarish first inning, just minutes after he'd been welcomed to the pressure cooker that is Philadelphia baseball with a warm, spirited ovation on a cloudy afternoon.

The 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, obtained in a July 29 blockbuster deal with Cleveland, made his Phillies debut last Friday in San Francisco. He stymied the Giants, 5-1, in an almost effortless five-hit complete-game victory.

Thursday's fans learned quickly to shrug off that first-inning run -- just like Lee and the Phillies did. Call it an aberration.

This says a lot about this pitcher.

It was just one start in the hitter-friendly park, but the left-hander showed brilliance by refusing to let tough situations bother him. He refused to be rattled or affected by adversity.

Bottom line:

After seven innings, the Rockies still had just the one run, they'd struck out nine times and were headed to a jarring 3-1 setback.

This is what you have to like about Lee.

"I wasn't pleased with how things started, but to get out of that first-inning jam -- runners on first and third and nobody out -- to come out of that with just one run ... from there, I felt like I locked in a little bit more and put up zeroes, got fairly deep in the game and gave the team a chance," Lee said. "That was my ultimate goal."

I asked Lee his mind-set at dealing with difficult situations. Great pitchers can push those difficult moments aside. Others often falter, giving in to the situation.

"Regardless of what happens -- good, bad or indifferent -- you have to move past it and look forward and continue to make pitches and force the other team to swing the bat," he said. "Hopefully, we'll make plays and score runs. I really keep things as simple as that."

Three times during his 112-pitch effort, Lee allowed 3-2 counts on Rockies batters. Just once did the hitter walk.

"In those situations, you're one pitch away from either a walk, an out or a hit," Lee said. "If you walk him, he's not earning his way on base -- you're giving him that base. You have to throw a competitive pitch and force him to swing the bat."

Shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was a home run short of hitting for the cycle Thursday, said Lee "goes right at the batter -- bop, bop, bop! He's a beast. He works so fast and it keeps us on our toes."

Manager Charlie Manuel believes the key is Lee's composure.

"He gets the ball and throws it," said Manuel. "He keeps the game going and its flow. That's especially good for the guys playing behind him. They love that and the same is true for the fans.

"It also shows self-confidence when you pitch like that. Even when it was 1-0, it didn't seem to bother him."

Manuel didn't say it, but there are pitchers who fall apart with such a poor beginning, especially in the first inning.

Phillies fans are some of the most devoted in the Major Leagues, but they also have a reputation for coming down hard on the players when they falter.

Lee has heard how tough they can be, but was looking forward to his first start at Citizens Bank Park.

Yes, he said, the adrenaline was flowing when he walked to the mound.

"But it's something you have to try to control and stay focused," he said. "For me, I try to focus on making the pitch and try not to get too outside of that. For the first start here, I gave myself a second to sit back and look around to see what was going on, but tried not to think too much about it."

To get a victory in his first start was important. And getting No. 2, Lee said, "is big for me. I want to be consistent, to be a guy who's depended on. I want to be a guy who's expected to give the team a chance, and that's what I expect of myself. To come over here and have the first two go as well as they have, I'm really pleased. Hopefully, I can continue to head in that direction."

Lee said he relied on catcher Paul Bako to call the pitches, "because he's more familiar with the hitters than I am."

Bako, whose leadoff homer in the fifth inning off losing pitcher Aaron Cook put the Phillies up 2-1, said Lee was "being nice" for giving him all the credit for pitch selection.

"He obviously knows what he's doing and what he's capable of," said Bako. "He pounds the strike zone and makes it for a quick game. In San Francisco, he threw a lot of balls in to right-handed hitters. Today, he showed how he can work both sides of the plate."

Former Indians teammate CC Sabathia, traded last July to Milwaukee, propelled the Brewers to the postseason for the first time since 1982. He was 11-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

"I can only hope to have close to the success he had last year in the National League," Lee said. "He went over there and it was basically a joke what he did.

"In the National League, I have to worry about the small game as far as bunting, having to hit every night every time my spot comes up. And I've got to worry about fielding bunts and making plays. The small game comes into play a little more."

For Lee so far, there's not too much small about his work.

Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.