NEW YORK -- Cliff Lee gained the honor of earning the first win at new Yankee Stadium. A little more than six months later, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner is looking to sour yet another first for the Yankees and do so yet again at the expense of one of his former Indians teammates.
When they host the Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night at 7:57 ET, the Yankees will be sending CC Sabathia to the mound with the hope that he can outduel his good friend Lee, who has proven to be downright dominant through his first three starts this postseason.
"I think Cliff Lee is very capable of pitching a real good game, especially if he's on top of his game," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He's a tremendous pitcher, and it'll be a heck of a game."
Despite going 36-16 with a 2.89 ERA in 65 starts over the past two regular seasons, Lee entered October having to prove that he possessed the mental strength that would allow him to find success in his first taste of the postseason.
Loves to face: Johnny Damon, 2-for-22. Hates to face: Derek Jeter, 11-for-27.
Loves to face: Jayson Werth, 0-for-6. Hates to face: Ryan Howard, 3-for-7.
Why he'll win: Opponents hitting .165 vs. him this postseason.
Why he'll win: Has a 0.88 WHIP in the postseason.
Pitcher beware: Yanks have hit .197 against him in his career.
Pitcher beware: Phillies have a lifetime .716 OPS against him.
Bottom line: Has to be perfect to beat CC. Could lose a tight one.
Bottom line: Has been dominant in the postseason and at Yankee Stadium. Should continue that trend.
Yielding just two earned runs over 24 1/3 innings in three playoff starts this month, Lee has silenced his doubters and proven more than capable of subduing the emotions that can prove crippling this time of year.
"What makes me who I am is I feel like I keep my mind in the moment and don't get caught up in all the hoopla that comes along with it -- and all the stuff that's out of my control," Lee said.
This self analysis isn't very revealing to Sabathia, who formed a strong bond with Lee while they pitched in Cleveland together over the course of seven seasons (2002-08). The two left-handers, who stand as the AL's last two Cy Young Award winners, have maintained a close friendship since ending their days as members of the Indians' rotation.
"It's just weird, because a couple of years ago we were talking about maybe pitching in a World Series together," Sabathia said. "Now we're in different clubhouses. It's just a little weird, but it will be fun."
A couple of years ago, Lee's career was spiraling in the wrong direction. He was sent to the Minors midway through the 2007 season and was left off the postseason roster, as the Indians came within one win of reaching the World Series that year.
Everything changed for Lee in 2008, when he went 22-3 and posted a 2.54 ERA for the Indians. Questions about whether he could repeat that kind of success were raised when he lost his first two starts this season, while yielding 11 earned runs in just 10 innings.
But Lee quickly turned things around on April 16, when the Yankees found the opening of their new stadium spoiled by the 31-year-old, who limited them to one run in six innings and led the Indians to a victory over Sabathia, who allowed one run over 5 2/3 innings but received no decision.
"I guess it was a chaotic atmosphere, being the first game here," Lee said. "But for me, I tried not to think too much about that and tried to focus on what I could control, which was how to pitch those guys."
In nine career starts against the Yankees, Lee has gone 4-4 with a 5.02 ERA. But the more telling stat is that he's gone 2-1 with a 1.89 ERA in the three starts he's made against them since the beginning of the 2008 season.
"He's just honed his game," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "He's stepped his game up. You don't win a Cy Young without stepping your game up. He's got the same mechanics and the same stuff. He's basically throwing the same pitches. He's just throwing them in better spots."
Since obtaining Lee from the Indians on July 29, the Phillies have certainly come to appreciate his dominant form. The veteran hurler opened his postseason career by coming within an out of a shutout against the Rockies in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Had the Phillies not opened up an 11-run lead against the Dodgers in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series, Lee would have been given the opportunity to go for a shutout and what would have been his second complete game of the postseason.
"All I've got to do is go out there and throw strikes and not walk guys," Lee said. "Our offense is going to score. It's a fun team to be a part of."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.