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With home field, Phillies to rely on ace

With home field, Phillies to rely on ace

PHILADELPHIA -- Cliff Lee has had plenty of experience pitching in cold-weather conditions and with the dominance he displayed during the National League Division Series, the Phillies left-hander erased most of the doubts concerning his ability to pitch in the postseason.

Thus as Lee prepares to start amid the wintry conditions that will exist during Game 3 of the NL Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday night, his primary concern rests on how he will be able to handle Manny Ramirez and the rest of the Dodgers lineup.

Tale of the Tape: Game 3
2009 Regular Season
Overall: 21 G, 20 GS, 8-7, 3.76 ERA, 24 BB, 87 K.
Overall: 34 GS, 14-13, 3.22 ERA, 43 BB, 181 K.
Key stat: 6-3, 3.55 on the road.
Key stat: 7-4, 3.39 ERA with Phillies.
Postseason
2009: NR. Career: 2 GS, 2-0, 1.46.
2009: 2 GS, 1-0, 1.10. Career: 2 GS, 1-0, 1.10.
At CITIZENS BANK PARK
2009: NR. Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.50.
2009: 5 GS, 5-2, 2.52. Career: 5 GS, 5-2, 2.52.
Against this opponent
2009: 1 GS, 0-0, 0.00. Career: 4 GS, 2-0, 1.44.
2009: Didn't face. Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.23.
Loves to face.: Ryan Howard, 0-for-8, 4 K. Hates to face: Chase Utley, 2-for-7, 2B.
Loves to face: Kemp, Loney and Ethier are combined 1-for-10. Hates to face: Manny Ramirez, 6-for-14, 2 HR.
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Pitched well against the Phillies including Dodgers' only win in 2008 NLCS.
Why he'll win: Phillies won his two starts against Rockies.
Pitcher beware: Herniated disk in neck kept him out of NLDS.
Pitcher beware: 249 IP including playoffs are a career high.
Bottom line: Much depends on his health.
Bottom line: Has been the ace the Phillies expected.

"They've got an unbelievable lineup, which is my concern," Lee said. "Top to bottom it is pretty impressive. So you've got to limit your mistakes and work ahead in the count and mix speeds. If you do that, good things should happen."

Displaying consistent command and having the ability to change speeds has been the recipe for success for Lee, whose resurgence during the 2008 season was rewarded with the American League's Cy Young Award.

Over the course of the past two seasons, Lee ranks sixth in the Majors with a 2.89 ERA and his 1.52 walks-per-nine innings mark has been bettered only by Toronto's Roy Halladay.

"I was fortunate enough to come to the big leagues in 1961 and was able to catch a guy like Warren Spahn," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. "He taught me a long time ago about how hitting is timing, and the pitcher's job is to upset that timing. I think that Cliff Lee is that type of guy, and yet he has enough giddyup on his fastball that he's more than just that.

"But his command is the thing that's the most impressive, because he's not overpowering if you're looking for one pitch, but he can hit both sides of the plate, and he's certainly not afraid to throw you the fastball."

During his two starts against the Rockies during the NLDS, Lee worked 16 2/3 innings and allowed just two earned runs. A costly error and some shoddy bullpen work in the eighth inning of Game 4 was all that separated him from winning both of his decisions.

When the Phillies acquired Lee from the Indians on July 29, they had visions of him serving as the ace that would be available to pitch important games like this one. If there were any concerns about him entering the postseason, they stemmed from the fact that he'd never had any previous playoff experience.

But Lee certainly diminished those doubts during Game 1 of the NLDS, when he tossed a complete game and fell just one out shy of introducing himself to the postseason with a shutout.

"He's a guy that's a gamer and that's what I love about him," Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino said. "It's definitely a nice position to be in to have him getting the ball in Game 3."

Lee's only career start against the Dodgers occurred on June 20, 2008. The 31-year-old left-hander put up zeroes through the first seven innings and exited after allowing a one-out single to Matt Kemp. The Indians bullpen then faltered and denied him a victory.

While Friday afternoon's comeback win swung the momentum in his team's favor, Torre is well aware of the task his club will face when they go to Philadelphia this weekend and immediately find the challenge presented by Lee.

"You've got to stay on top of them from the top to bottom, from the first inning until the end," Lee said. "It's going to be a challenge and something I look forward to, and hopefully I can just give the team a chance to win."

Mark Bowman 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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