If you're going to produce a big-time pitching performance, why not live large? Stop the best offense in baseball, at baseball's most important time, on baseball's biggest stage.
That was Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night. Lee, the 2008 American League Cy Young Award winner, has already established his worth. But there were those who thought he would merely serve as a capable second banana here to the 2007 AL Cy Young winner, CC Sabathia, now the ace of the Yankees' staff.
It was Yankee Stadium. It was the World Series. Sabathia was 3-0 with a 1.19 ERA in this postseason. Weren't the Yankees supposed to win this one?
Apparently not. Not with Lee stopping them cold. In a complete game, he gave up one unearned run, six hits, no walks and struck out 10 in the Phillies' 6-1 victory.
As good as Sabathia was on this night, Lee was better. And that is saying a lot. What made this performance even more impressive was the fact that the Yankees had baseball's best offense this year, averaging an imposing 5.65 runs per game. The Phillies were fourth in the Majors in runs scored at 5.06 per game. There had been considerable pregame speculation about how many runs would be scored in this Series, how many home runs would be hit by these powerful offenses in two hitter-friendly parks.
No, not in this game. The two left-handers battled on relatively even terms well into the New York night. The difference was that Sabathia gave up two solo home runs to Phillies second baseman Chase Utley. Lee gave up nothing of any consequence.
"He was great tonight," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He kept us off balance. He got us to chase some pitches when we were down in the count, up in the zone. He used his cutter very well, he used his curveball really well. He was really good."
Lee did some things against the Yankees that previously had not seemed particularly possible. In the fourth inning, for instance, facing three, four, five in the New York order -- Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada -- the inning went swinging strikeout, swinging strikeout, swinging strikeout.
Going the distance
|C. Lee||10/28/09||PHI||@ NYY||6-1|
|J. Morris||10/9/84||DET||@ SD||3-2|
|M. Caldwell||10/12/82||MIL||@ STL||10-0|
|B. Gibson||10/4/67||STL||@ BOS||2-1|
|S. Koufax||10/2/63||LA||@ NYY||5-2|
|W. Ford||10/4/62||NYY||@ SF||6-2|
There was an ironic twist in this classic pitching matchup. This was like graduate school for the Cleveland Indians. Both Sabathia and Lee had won their Cy Youngs in the employ of the Cleveland franchise. The Indians traded both for packages of prospects. Considering how terrific Sabathia and Lee have been since their departures from the shores of Lake Erie, the prospects probably need to develop into really good players.
Sabathia departed after seven innings, with a solid performance, just two runs allowed. Pitching for the Yankees, with that average of 5.65 runs per game, that's a victory in the vast majority of games. But with Lee giving up nothing, it was merely a distant second.
And after Sabathia departed, the New York bullpen was not up to the task of keeping the lead at two runs. Once the lead grew beyond two runs, with Lee pitching the way he was, even the mighty Yankees were not going to change the nature of this game's result.
In the eighth inning, Robinson Cano hit a sharp comebacker to the mound. Perhaps to demonstrate his versatility, Lee fielded the ball behind his back. Even those who had not been watching closely enough understood at this point that this was Lee's night.
"I don't know how I caught that ball," Lee said.
"That was pretty good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Not only with this play but with a night of stifling baseball's best offense, Lee was working with a kind of cool confidence that made him seem semi-untouchable. And why should he not feel this way? He has four pitches working with precision, he is on top of his game, in command of his craft.
"To be successful at this level, you've got to be confident," Lee said. "You've got to go out there and think you're going to get everybody out and think you can. I definitely do that. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky, but I definitely have confidence, there's no doubt about it.
"[I was] not nervous at all. It's been a long time since I've been nervous playing this game. It's what I've been doing my whole life. You do everything you need to do to prepare, and I try not to leave anything to chance. So what's the point in being nervous? I've already done the work. It's game time, time to go out there and have fun and execute and let your skills take over."
Lee's skills took over, all right. In Game 1 of the 2009 World Series, the New York Yankees had no real shot against Lee, his confidence, his command, his skills. This was a pitching work of art, performed at baseball's highest level.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.