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07/14/08 12:55 PM ET

Lee honored to be named AL starter

Left-hander's standout season rewarded with first All-Star trip

NEW YORK -- Four months ago, Cliff Lee was merely trying to secure the last spot in the Indians' rotation. Now he's starting for the American League against the National League in Tuesday night's 79th All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

"I'm just honored to be here, to be honest with you," said Lee, who will take the hill opposite Milwaukee's Ben Sheets in his first All-Star appearance, coming during the final season at the old Yankee Stadium. "To get the start is icing on the cake. I've never even been in an All-Star Game, let alone this one in the final year at this ballpark. It's something special.

"I hope it's as exciting as anticipated. I just have to go out there and do my job and if that happens, I'll be even happier."

Major League Baseball's annual All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, with pregame ceremonies beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

It also will be shown live in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and Sportsnet HD and televised around the world by Major League Baseball International.

For Lee, the left-hander's dominant first half has pushed him to the forefront of the AL pitching staff. AL manager Terry Francona of the Red Sox gave him the high honor as a reward for his incredible comeback on an Indians team that has struggled mightily in its attempt at repeating last year's AL Central-winning season.

"He's been the best pitcher in the league from the start to this point," Francona said.

Lee went 12-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 18 first-half starts. He is tied for first in the AL in wins and he became just the fourth pitcher in Indians history to start a season 11-1 or better, but the first since Charles Nagy did it in 1996.

A year ago, less than one season removed from signing a long-term contract extension with the Indians, Lee was demoted to Triple-A Buffalo because of a July in which he had a dismal 0-4 record and 11.70 ERA.

For the 2007 season, Lee was 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA. He might not have lost confidence in himself, but he had clearly lost command of his fastball. And his pride took a hit when the Indians brought him back in September, placed him aside in the bullpen, and left him off their postseason roster.

Lee opened last season on the disabled list because of a strained right abdominal muscle.

"I got hurt during Spring Training last year and that had a lot to do with my rough season," Lee said. "Sometimes going through some failure makes you a better player in the long run, and I think that was the case with me. It gave me a little bit of motivation going into the offseason. It made me work a little harder and I did everything I could not to get injured again.

"I just wanted to give myself a chance to compete and prove that I could pitch the way I did in the past. And fortunately it's worked out that way."

Lee is in his seventh season, all with the Indians. He's 66-38 with a 4.60 career ERA, posting a career-best 18-5 record in 2005, following that up with a 14-11 record in 2006.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.