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Lee's start important in more way than one

Lee's start important in more way than one

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PHILADELPHIA -- A few Phillies have talked about the playoff atmosphere this year at Citizens Bank Park.

Cliff Lee has noticed.

He left the sparse crowds in Cleveland this summer for the jam-packed Bank. The Phillies rank third in the Majors in attendance (3,375,094) and average attendance (44,409) this season. According to the numbers, the Phillies have filled the Bank to 102.1 percent capacity this season, which is best in the Majors. Boston's Fenway Park is second at 101.5 percent.

Pulse
Phillies at a glance
2009 record: 93-69
2008 record: 92-70
NL East champs
NLCS matchup:
Phillies at Dodgers
Postseason tix: Information

WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Madson: Back in business
Werth: Heart of the order
Rollins: Awaiting breakout
Focus: One game at a time
Manuel: Mix & match
Howard: Ready for lefties
Stairs: Shot reverberates
Manuel: New rules for 'pen
Blanton: Arm around team
Pedro: Return to spotlight
Ibanez: Eyes on prize
Rollins: '07 irrelevant
Lidge: Still an option
Lidge: Killer cutter
Roster: Mulling options
Ibanez: Perfect fit
Hamels: Path of the pros
Amaro: Bold decisions
Pedro: Elated to play part
Rollins: No more predictions
Hamels: Back in business
Pitching: Staff in flux
Manuel: Keeps 'em focused
Hamels: Aims for dominance
Lineup: Imperfect but solid
Lee: Ready for playoff debut
Howard: The evolution
Rollins: Excelling on defense
Rotation: Not just big two
Manuel: Steady as she goes
Rollins: Eyes on '09 drama
Howard: The 'Big Piece'
Lee: Lifting Phils' hopes

The Phillies have had a franchise-record 68 sellouts and 36 consecutive sellouts entering Wednesday night's game against the Houston Astros.

The Bank has had a playoff atmosphere at times because it has been packed, but Lee might notice a little something extra Wednesday.

Wednesday should have a truer playoff feel because the Phillies' magic number to win their third consecutive National League East is 1. If the Phillies beat the Astros tonight, they clinch the division.

Win and they're in.

But even if the Phillies clinch Wednesday, Lee's start Thursday has importance. The Phillies are still trying to get home-field advantage in the playoffs. They currently have the second-best record in the National League. If that holds, they would have home-field advantage in the National League Division Series, but have to open the NL Championship Series on the road if the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record, advance.

The Phillies are 1 1/2 games behind the Dodgers, but just one back in the loss column.

Lee could close that gap. He has struggled recently. He went 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA in his first five starts with the Phillies, but is 2-3 with a 6.35 ERA in his last six.

"His first [few] games here were really, really good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "That was because he had command to both sides of the plate. He's had some trouble doing that. Anytime somebody [struggles] it's a concern. If you have a not-so-good outing or whatever, that doesn't concern me. If you go three or four, yeah, I'd like to see him pitch like he did the first three or four times. But unfortunately, that doesn't happen."

Lee has thrown 226 innings this season, which ranks sixth in baseball.

"I feel strong, if that's what you're getting at," Lee said. "I feel as strong as I have all year. That's what you work all offseason for, is to prepare for a long season and hopefully something extra there at the end. I feel like I've done everything I need to do to be in a position where I'm at right now."

Todd Zolecki 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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