In the lefty's first regular-season start in a Seattle uniform and in front of a loud crowd of 34,055 at Safeco Field, the former American League Cy Young winner showed no effects of the abdominal strain that kept him on the sidelines since the middle of Spring Training.
In fact, he looked every bit the ace the Mariners traded for in the offseason -- and a lot like the virtuoso that shut out the Yankees in Game 1 of last year's World Series.
Lee pitched seven scoreless innings against Texas, flashing a fastball that hit 93 mph all game and biting breaking pitches that helped him strike out eight while not walking a batter and surrendering only three singles. Unfortunately, the Mariners couldn't come through for Lee at the plate against Texas starter Colby Lewis, who pitched nine scoreless innings, and the Rangers' bullpen, as Seattle lost to Texas, 2-0, in 12 innings.
And that's why Lee said he had mixed feelings about his outing.
"To give the team a chance and not give up any runs, yeah, you've got to be happy with that," Lee said. "I would have rather given up a couple of runs and helped the team win, but it is what it is.
"You've got to tip your hat to Lewis. The way he threw the ball was pretty impressive. To go nine innings like that and not give up any runs, that's hard to do. He pitched an unbelievable game tonight."
So did Lee.
He was quick to the plate and increasingly stingy with his pitch count. He was perfect through the first three frames, using 50 pitches (36 strikes), until giving up a single to Michael Young with one out in the fourth. Over the next four innings, he threw 48 pitches, including a perfect nine-pitch seventh in which he fanned Ian Kinsler looking for the final out. Of his 98 pitches, 73 were strikes.
"Lee was probably as good as you can ask," Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said. "He was near perfect. To be able to see the velocity up, quality of pitches, dominate their lineup, and really, in the last couple of innings, be economical with his pitches.
"He threw seven innings, and that kind of performance, especially for his first one of the year, was pretty special."
The Rangers seemed to agree.
"Cliff Lee was obviously tough," Young said. "He came back and looked like he hadn't missed a beat. We were just fortunate to get a couple of breaks at the end."
As for Lee, he became the first Mariners starter to throw seven shutout innings in his Seattle debut, beating the previous mark of Jeff Harris, who tossed five scoreless frames on Aug. 2, 2005. Lee retired 20 of the 23 batters he faced and helped the Mariners starting pitching staff lower its collective ERA over the last 15 games to 2.43.
"All my pitches worked pretty good today, to be honest with you," Lee said. "I was throwing strikes with the fastball, locating, I had a good changeup, cutter, curveball.
"It was one of those games where everything was working, and usually when you have all your pitches, they don't score many runs. That was it."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less