Dominant Lee breaks 20-win mark
Shutout makes lefty first Tribe hurler to milestone since '74
CLEVELAND -- On Sept. 1, 2007, Cliff Lee was one of the players the Indians called up from Triple-A Buffalo when the team expanded its roster.The left-hander had struggled for most of the season, spent the month of August in the Minors and finished with a 5-8 record and a 6.29 ERA. Exactly one year to the date of his callup, Lee pitched himself into the Indians' record books. He went the distance Monday in a 5-0 win over Chicago, becoming the first Indians pitcher in 34 years to win 20 games in a season. Gaylord Perry was the last Tribe pitcher to win 20 games when he went 21-13 in 1974. "It has a nice ring to it," said Lee, the front-runner for the American League's Cy Young Award. "I like the sound of it." Lee's only problems came in the first and ninth, when the first two White Sox hitters reached base in each frame. Lee worked out of trouble both times thanks to inning-ending double plays. In between his problem innings, Lee retired 21 straight batters, starting when Jermaine Dye lined into a double play to end the first and ending when Paul Konerko singled with one out in the eighth. Lee, who held the Sox to five hits and struck out four, was given standing ovations throughout the night. The first came when he walked to the bullpen to warm up about 25 minutes before game time. The ovations continued before and after every inning. The noise reached a crescendo after Joe Crede and Orlando Cabrera started the ninth with singles. Lee retired A.J. Pierzynski on a fly ball to left and got Carlos Quentin, who leads the league in home runs, to bounce into a game-ending double play. "I'm honored and privileged to get the opportunity to accomplish this," Lee said. "It's a magic number in this game." "He's had a remarkable year," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "He did it in style." Lee's 20-2 record gives him a .909 winning percentage, tops in the AL. His 20 wins represent 30 percent of the Indians' 66 wins for the season, the highest percentage of team wins for any Major League pitcher this season. His only losses have come to the Reds on May 18 and the Twins on July 6. "I'm glad I got it out of the way on the first try," Lee said. "I'm glad I don't have to answer questions about it leading into my next start." The bad news for Lee is he will now have to answer questions about potentially winning a Cy Young Award. He leads the AL in wins, winning percentage and ERA (2.32). He also has won nine straight decisions, which is tied for the longest streak in the league. Lee has allowed two or fewer earned runs in 21 of his 27 starts. He also has two complete games and four shutouts. The game featured some interaction between Lee and Pierzynski, who exchanged words and stares beginning in the fourth inning and ending when the pitcher pointed to the White Sox dugout after the final out. "His second at-bat, he slammed his bat down and stared me down," Lee said. "I stared him down back. He was chirping at me from the dugout. Actually, I appreciate him doing that. It gave me a little extra energy." Pierzynski, naturally, had a different version.
"He yelled after the first out," he said. "It was a 3-2 pitch and I popped up and slammed the bat down. It wasn't meant anything toward him. It was just a popup."Told the White Sox players were standing on the railing staring at him after the game, Lee said, "I don't care." Asked why he pointed at the Chicago dugout, Lee said, "I was excited." Shin-Soo Choo's second-inning single drove in the Cleveland's first run. Ben Francisco added an RBI single in the third. The Indians scored twice in the fourth on doubles by Kelly Shoppach and Asdrubal Cabrera. Cabrera added a sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Steve Herrick is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.