- The Washington Times - Monday, October 19, 2009

PHILADELPHIA | It’s precisely for these situations that the Philadelphia Phillies got Cliff Lee, why they forked over a bundle of prized prospects to the Cleveland Indians for last year’s AL Cy Young winner.

Dogged by questions about their shaky bullpen and fielding woes after blowing a chance to sweep the first two games in Los Angeles, the Phillies didn’t have to worry so much about the possibility of a series-changing letdown Sunday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Lee again showed he is capable of the self-reliant brilliance that renders any other issues moot. He did it for the second time this postseason, effortlessly manipulating the Dodgers’ offense through eight shutout innings while the Phillies bludgeoned any thought of a slip-up by the end of the second inning. When it was done, Philadelphia had an 11-0 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series that put the defending World Series champions firmly back in control.

“He’s pretty damn special,” Dodgers manager Joe Torre said. “He attacks the strike zone. He works fast. He threw us some pitches to hit, but when he’s delivering, how aggressive he is, he comes at you quick and the hitters sometimes aren’t ready to hit. He knows how to pitch with a lead.”

It was the left-hander’s second postseason start in Philadelphia. Both of them have qualified as masterpieces.

Lee, who posted a complete-game victory in Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Colorado Rockies and posted a 1.10 ERA in his two starts in that series, was sharp right from the beginning against the Dodgers. He shifted seamlessly through his entire repertoire - which features a two-seam fastball, a four-seamer, a cutter, curveball and change-up - and never let the Dodgers get comfortable in the cold weather. He finished with 10 strikeouts, tying a Phillies postseason record, and allowed just three hits without a walk.

“In the postseason, you’ve got to bear down,” Lee said. “Every pitch matters. It helped tonight that we got four in the first and two in the second. It gave me a nice cushion where I could work both sides of the plate.”

He pitched most of the night with a lead, and by the time he took the mound for the second inning, it was already a comfortable one.

When Ryan Howard came to the plate four batters into the first inning, Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda - the one Dodgers pitcher to beat the Phillies during last year’s NLCS - was teetering on the brink of trouble. He threw Howard nothing but fastballs, and when the fifth one caught the middle of the plate, Howard made him pay for it, lashing a triple down the right-field line that put the Phillies up 2-0.

The next batter, Jayson Werth, saw another poorly located fastball from Kuroda, and he launched that one over the center-field fence. By the time the second inning was over, the Phillies had a 6-0 lead, the “Beat L.A.” chants were in heavy rotation, the rout was on and Kuroda was gone.

“[Pitching coach] Rick Honeycutt made a special point to come to me and tell me how good [Kuroda’s] bullpen session was [Tuesday]. It’s just one of those days,” Torre said. “Whether it was the cold weather or whatever, I can’t answer that. No excuses, let’s put it that way. He just didn’t pitch well.”

In the span of six batters in the first and second innings, the Phillies hit for the cycle as a team. They finished the night with 11 runs and 11 hits, six for extra bases, as well as seven walks.

The loss was the Dodgers’ worst postseason defeat in 50 years, dating to an 11-0 loss in the 1959 World Series.

But most important for the Phillies, it meant they could clinch a second consecutive NL pennant with two more wins at home. If their next two games feature pitching performances anywhere close to as brilliant as Lee’s, that’s a virtual certainty.

“When he takes the mound, you can see it in his presence,” Howard said. “He goes out there, he shuts the other team down. He gives us opportunities to go out and put runs on the board.”

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