He had waited his entire career for his first postseason opportunity, and he needed just one more strike to finish it in grand fashion. Lee, arguably the biggest acquisition by any team before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, had Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki down to his last strike with a runner on second and two outs in the top of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park.
"I wanted to give myself a chance to really absorb it and take it all in," Lee said following the Phillies' 5-1 victory on Wednesday.
The largest crowd in Citizens Bank Park history -- 46,452 fans -- recognized the moment.
"Let's go, Lee!" they chanted. "Let's go, Lee!"
"I don't remember the last time the whole stands chanted one man's name," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "It just showed what he was doing throughout the game and what he meant to this crowd and what he meant for the game."
Tulowitzki ultimately doubled to score a run to end Lee's shutout bid, but Lee became the eighth pitcher in Phis history to throw a complete game in the postseason, and the first since Curt Schilling threw a shutout in Game 5 of the 1993 World Series.
"What he did today was absolutely amazing," Victorino said. "That's what they got him for."
The Phillies took the early lead in the best-of-five series against the Rockies, who swept them in the 2007 NLDS. They have left-hander Cole Hamels on the mound Thursday at 2:37 p.m. ET in Game 2 on Postseason.TV and TBS.
Lee gave a good challenge to Hamels, who went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA in five starts last postseason to earned World Series and NL Championship Series MVP honors. Lee allowed six hits and one run in nine innings. He walked nobody. He struck out five.
YOU COMPLETE ME
|2009||Cliff Lee||PHI||1||COL||W, 5-1|
|2004||Jose Lima||LAD||3||STL||W, 4-0|
|2003||Jason Schmidt||SF||1||CHC||W, 2-0|
|2003||Mark Prior||CHC||3||ATL||W, 3-1|
|2001||Curt Schilling||ARI||1||STL||W, 2-0|
|2001||Curt Schilling||ARI||5||STL||W, 2-1|
|2000||Bobby Jones||NYM||4||SF||W, 4-0|
|1999||Kevin Millwood||ATL||2||HOU||W, 5-1|
|1997||Greg Maddux||ATL||1||HOU||W, 2-1|
|1997||John Smoltz||ATL||3||HOU||W, 4-1|
"He got really, really good as the game went on," Rockies manager Jim Tracy said. "To the point where by the third inning, I don't know if he missed a spot."
Rockies right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez also came out firing. He threw a 100-mph fastball to Victorino and a 101-mph fastball to Chase Utley in the first inning. He threw just 46 pitches through four innings. He did not get into a three-ball count until Utley got into one with one out in the fourth.
"Early, he had everything going," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "He had his curveball. He had his changeup. He was throwing them for strikes. He had his fastball at 97 to 99 mph. That makes it a little tougher. But we got some guys on base and I think he became concerned with the runners, and he was leaving some balls up in the zone. Even if you throw hard and you leave it up in a hittable part of the zone, a professional batter is going to find a way to put the barrel on it, and that's what happened."
Jimenez walked Jayson Werth to lead off the fifth. Raul Ibanez ripped a 3-1 changeup into the right-field corner to score Werth to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Pedro Feliz's fielder's choice advanced Ibanez to third, and Carlos Ruiz worked an eight-pitch at-bat, hitting a 3-2 slider for a single to give the Phillies a 2-0 lead.
Jimenez finally got out of the inning, but he needed 35 pitches to do it.
After getting to just one three-ball count in the first four innings, Jimenez got to four in the fifth. Those problems continued in the sixth as he allowed a single to Utley, a double to Howard and a triple to Werth -- his ball off the left-center field wall would have been a home run had strong winds not been blowing to right field -- to give the Phillies a 4-0 lead. Tracy pulled Jimenez for left-hander Joe Beimel to face Ibanez, who singled to right to score Werth to make it 5-0.
"We seem to have a knack for getting hits when they're most needed," Rollins said.
They seem to play their best when its most needed, too. The Phillies did not play great baseball down the stretch. They lost nine of their final 16 games, while the Rockies went 9-5 in the same span for the second-best record in the NL.
THE 1-0 SERIESThe advantage of winning Game 1 of a Division Series is far more pronounced in the National League than in the American League since DS play began in 1995.
Records of teams going up 1-0:
- ALDS 14-14
- NLDS 25-3
- All DS 39-17
- All Series 153-84
Teams to come back from 1-0 in NLDS:
- 2003 Marlins (won World Series)
- 2000 Mets (lost World Series)
- 1999 Braves (lost World Series)
It's not that the Phillies played lackadaisically. They just seemed to be missing something.
The Phils never had less than a four-game lead after Aug. 11. It seemed like they were just waiting, waiting and waiting for the playoffs to begin.
"We definitely have been," Rollins said. "We pretty much knew all we had to do was close the season out. We weren't going to let anybody catch us. We weren't concerned with that. Now winning feels like you're doing something rather than just moving the win-loss column up. Just win a game, win a game, win a game. Next. Ultimately, go out there win 11 and you're hoisting up the trophy again."
Thanks to Lee, who also became the first pitcher in Phillies history to steal a base in the postseason, they got one victory down Wednesday.
"Finally, it's here," Rollins said. "We can finally let the wins actually count for something. You win, it's one less game you have to win to go to the next round. One down, 10 more to go."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.