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by Harold Friend
The defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies have known for almost two months that their chances of winning the National League's Eastern Division crown were pretty good. When they defeated the Astros on the last day in September, they achieved the first step necessary to repeat as the best team in baseball.
Cliff Lee, Not Cole Hamels, Starts the Opener
In a move that should not have been surprising to anyone who has followed the Phillies this season, manager Charlie Manuel picked Cliff Lee to start the opening game of the first playoff round against Jim Tracy's Rockies. Cole Hamels had an inconsistent season, and although Lee, who had a great start after being acquired from the Indians, had also been a little inconsistent in his last few starts, opening with Lee was a good move.
Where is the Lead Off Batter?
Cliff Lee warmed up in the bullpen for his first playoff start during the pregame ceremonies. Satisfied with his work, Lee went to the mound to start the game, but there was a problem. After throwing his eight warm up pitches, Cliff didn't see lead off batter Dexter Fowler get into the batters' box. He did see the home plate umpire holding up play because the television people weren't ready. Lee was a little upset, but he wasn't about to let it affect his pitching.
Despite some denials, playoff baseball is different from most regular season games, as Lee quickly discovered. After his complete game win, he spoke to reporters.
"I knew there was going to be a little bit more adrenaline, but for the most part, I tried to treat it like a normal game.
Shane Victorino's Explanation
Shane Victorino said that the Phillies prepared for the playoffs after they clinched the division. Winning the last few games was not the primary concern. Doing what was necessary to play effective playoff baseball was the goal.
"It's a different atmosphere, but that's not saying that it's easy to turn that switch on . . . .I think once we clinched, I think some guys went out there and worked on some things - I know I did - at the plate. Kind of saying, OK, what was I doing wrong? Not saying that the numbers didn't matter, they do, but ultimately we've clinched, hey, now let's try to get ourselves prepared for the post season.
Lee's Rhythm is Broken
The Phillies won by four runs, but the way Lee pitched, it was an insurmountable margin. With two outs in the ninth inning, leading 5-0, Lee took a breath to observe the fans who were shouting, Let's Go Lee!" He broke his own rhythm, and later admitted that might have cost him the shutout.
Dexter Fowler led off the ninth by hitting a fly ball to Jason Werth for the first out. Carlos Gonzalez singled, but Raul Ibanez caught Todd Helton's fly ball for the second out. After his brief pause to savor the moment, Lee delivered a wild pitch to Troy Tulowitski, moving Gonzalez to second. Troy then doubled Carlos home with the only run the Rockies would score.
Lee took a few deep breaths as Garret Atkins stepped into the box. The count went to one ball and two strikes. Lee checked Tulowitzki, fired home, and the game was over.
Cole Hamels starts the second game. If he can come close to repeating last year's performance in October, the Phillies will be a force once again, a fact that may really be of great concern to the Minnesota Twins.
Murphy, David. "Lee strong to the finish in Phillies' Game 1 win over Rockies." Philadelphia Daily News. 8 October 8, 2009.