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PHI@STL: Lee finishes off complete-game shutout

The teams were dealing with the talk as far back as March, and it's been written about since Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez landed in Boston and Cliff Lee returned to Philadelphia. The Red Sox and Phillies are the favorites to meet in the 2011 World Series.

When the two met for the first time this year, at Boston's Spring Training home in Florida on March 2, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. stirred the pot when he called Boston "the best club in baseball."

"Anytime you bring that kind of talent to your club, they did a heck of a job," Amaro said. "They already had a great team except for a whole [heck] of a lot of injuries."

The Phillies actually won that day, 2-0, behind four innings of one-hit ball from Cole Hamels, but that was just a Spring Training game. It didn't mean much.

What's transpired since has been meaningful -- the regular season -- and if record is the criteria, Amaro has been incorrect thus far. His Phillies have been baseball's best team. They're one win away from being the first to 50, and they're the only club with a winning percentage over .600. Roy Halladay tossed his fifth complete game of the year in a 3-1 win over the A's on Sunday.

The Red Sox, meanwhile, had a four-game losing streak heading into Sunday and were in danger of being swept by the Pirates. They avoided that with a 4-2 win, but are a half-game behind the Yankees for first place in the American League East.

Now, with a little more jazz than a spring meeting but not nearly the raucous of October, the Red Sox and Phils meet again, this time for a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park that starts Tuesday night.

"I think it probably could be two of the best," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said on Sunday when asked if the two teams are the best in the game.

Manuel could say the exact same thing about the pitchers set to throw on Monday, a duo that easily could headline, say, Game 1 of a hypothetical World Series. Lee and Josh Beckett -- both Fall Classic veterans -- face off at a time when both are pitching very well.

Beckett, the Majors' ERA leader at 1.86, tossed a one-hit shutout his last time out against the Rays, while Lee's tossed two shutouts in a row and has allowed just one earned run in his past four starts, spanning 33 innings.

"Those are fun games to play," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "You go in knowing you're not going to knock it around the ballpark, but they're fun games to play."

The problem for Beckett, though, could be that he hasn't been out there in a bit. That shutout came on June 15, and the flu has given him 12 days of rest before this start.

Francona didn't seem concerned.

"It's not like he's got a bad arm," Francona said. "He was sick and it took a lot out of him, but I don't think that [the time off was a disadvantage]. We'll keep an eye on him and if he's running out of gas, but like I said, it's not like he's hurt. He was just sick."

For now, the Red Sox and Phillies meeting is meaningful more to the fans than the teams. "We're gonna have a nice sellout," Hamels said. But it could, to some extent, impact a potential October meeting. Any time two clubs get a look at each other, there's plenty of notes being taken by both sides.

"That's completely different," Manuel said of the playoffs. "But at the same time, we get to play them, we get to see them a little bit."

Red Sox: Francona comes back, again
Francona returned to Philadelphia as an opposing manager for the first time last year, when the Red Sox took two of three at Citizens Bank Park.

Francona, who's only managed for Boston and Philadelphia in the big leagues, went 285-363 from 1997-2000 with Philadelphia.

With the team in Pittsburgh Sunday -- a city Francona grew up outside of -- for the series against the Pirates, he was asked how the reception would be different in Philadelphia.

"Well, I didn't grow up there," he said. "And they don't like me."

Phillies: Like Sox, Phils banged up
Ryan Madson and Roy Oswalt are out for the Phillies, and Brian Schneider has just returned, while the Red Sox have dealt with injuries to Crawford, Bobby Jenks and Jed Lowrie.

Manuel said he was aware of the similarities between the two teams' injury situations, but wasn't looking at either as handicapped.

"That's the luck of the game -- go get 'em," Manuel said. "We'll play with what we got, and I'm sure they are, too. That's what we have, I'm sure they feel the same way."

Worth noting
The Red Sox are 26-17 against the Phillies all time, and took four of six from Philadelphia last season.

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