PHILADELPHIA -- Cliff Lee had the Astros running through his mind on Saturday as he walked from the bullpen to the dugout before throwing the first pitch of his highly anticipated return to Citizens Bank Park.
The roar from the crowd momentarily broke his concentration.
"I gave myself a second walking in to notice that," Lee said following the Phillies' 9-4 victory. "I could definitely hear the volume when I was walking in."
The love affair with Lee, who spurned bigger bucks from the Yankees and Rangers to rejoin the Phillies in December on a five-year, $120 million contract, came through loud and clear. From the moment he finished his warmup pitches in the bullpen to the moment he threw his final pitch in the seventh inning, fans showed him their adoration.
It is hard to remember a Phillies player in recent seasons getting a raucous ovation like the one Lee got before the game.
Jim Thome in 2003?
Roy Halladay in 2010?
"It seemed a little more intense," said Lee, asked about other ovations he has received in other cities. "These fans have a knack for getting a little louder than everyone else. I don't what it is. I don't know if it's alcohol induced or what, but they definitely have a knack for getting really loud and supporting their team."
"Awesome," left fielder Raul Ibanez said. "That was a great atmosphere to play in. It felt like [Friday]. It felt like Opening Day. It was really a great welcome back for him."
Lee received another ovation when he stepped into the batter's box in the second inning. Fans even cheered him after he struck out.
"I didn't hear that," he said.
They cheered after each inning, after each of his 11 strikeouts and after he executed a sacrifice bunt to set up a two-run rally in the fourth.
Lee allowed four hits and three runs, and it was the 10th time in his career he struck out 10 or more batters in a game. (He has struck out 108 and walked just six in those games.)
His only mistake came in the sixth inning, when Carlos Lee hit a two-run homer to left field.
Not a bad second debut for the man who first joined the Phillies in July 2009 before being traded to Seattle in December 2009.
"He pitched a little bit more backwards," Astros second baseman Bill Hall said. "He was way off the charts. He's usually 80, 90 percent fastball, but he threw probably 50 percent changeups today, and I think it screwed up a little bit of our planning going into the game, and by the time we made our adjustments, he had adjusted back to making other pitchers with his cutter. He made some pitches today. They got off to an early lead and fed off that."
And when Lee wasn't pitching, the Phillies were hitting. And unlike in Friday's season opener, they did not wait until the ninth inning. The Phillies scored two runs in the first inning and two more runs in the fourth to make it 4-1.
They added three runs in the fifth to make it 7-3.
"That was the key to the game today," Lee said. "They scored early and kept adding on. That was good to see."
Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Ben Francisco and Ibanez each had two or more hits, and Victorino, Ibanez and Francisco each had two RBIs.
But Saturday was all about Lee. He is back, and Phillies fans couldn't be happier. He is the reason why people have been buying tickets and merchandise at remarkable rates. He is the reason why baseball experts think the Phillies are favorites to win their third National League championship in four seasons.
"When he was here the first time, he was awesome for us," Ibanez said. "I think it's not just that he's a great pitcher. It's kind of his way of being. He's intense and he's competitive, and at the same time, he's kind of laid-back and he doesn't make too much of anything of any situation. He's a lot of fun to be around, and a lot of fun to play behind. And he's a great pitcher."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.