Lee can give Phils commanding series lead

Lee can give Phils commanding series lead

Lee can give Phils commanding series lead
PHILADELPHIA -- The last time we saw left-hander Cliff Lee working his magic in the postseason in a Phillies uniform, he was nothing short of dazzling, beating the Yankees twice for Philadelphia's only wins in the 2009 World Series.

Lee's experience with the Phils -- the outpouring of support and strong relationships he forged with his teammates -- led him back to Philadelphia last winter after brief stints in Seattle and Texas. He came back with a little bit of unfinished business.

Lee will take the mound in Sunday's Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals in his quest to win the World Series title that eluded him and the Phillies two years ago. He'll have a chance to give Philadelphia a commanding 2-0 lead in the series after the Phils' 11-6 win in Saturday's Game 1.

"I've been fortunate enough to be in the postseason -- this will be my third year in a row," Lee said. "And obviously, the first time, you really don't know what to expect. Each time, you kind of know what it's going to be like somewhat. So I guess that does help, just experiencing that."

Lee, who shocked baseball by signing a lucrative contract to return to the Phillies last offseason, has flourished in the role of sidekick to Roy Halladay -- the man for whom he was ostensibly traded in December 2009.

"They're great pitchers, but they're two different pitchers," Cardinals third baseman David Freese said.

Back in Philly this season, Lee went 17-8, with a 2.40 ERA in 32 regular-season starts, including a six-hit shutout of the Cardinals on June 22. He went 8-1 with a 1.27 ERA in his last 11 regular-season starts.

That doesn't mean Lee doesn't have a huge amount of respect for the Redbirds, who overcame the odds to earn the NL Wild Card on the season's final day.

"That's a team that you've got to be careful with," he said. "They've got some guys who have been hot, so you've got to be aware of that and stay out of the heart of the plate -- work ahead, force them to swing the bat early, mix speeds, just standard things you have to do to be successful at this level. You've got to do those things, and we'll see."

Lee's postseason resume is impressive. He is 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA in 10 career playoff starts, going 3-0 with the Rangers last year before losing twice in the World Series. He's never lost a Division Series game, going 3-0 with a 1.11 ERA with Philadelphia and Texas over the past two years.

"Every year is a different year," he said. "It was different from the Phillies to the Rangers to back to the Phillies here. It was definitely fun each time, and I hope this time, we take it the next step."

Lee's easygoing personality and demeanor give him an edge when he pitches on baseball's brightest stage. Not much rattles him -- not the glare of Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols or the pressure of performing with the hopes of a city on the line.

"I've always been pretty loose, no matter what," Lee said. "There's no need to fake like there's some extra something. I mean, it is more important, there's no doubt about it. But the mood of the team and the attitude are still the same. We've been quiet, confident all year and backed it up. So I expect more of the same throughout the postseason."

On a team filled with superstars, Lee is as beloved as anyone in Philadelphia. His performance in the 2009 playoffs worked his way into the hearts of the rugged fan base, and he became a fan favorite when he re-signed with the club. He said he never wanted to leave.

Lee, 33, wanted another chance to pitch for the Phillies in the postseason, something that will come to fruition Sunday.

"I know that the fans respect the way I play the game and respect the fact that I came back here and stuff like that -- and that's good," he said. "But I think what makes me is my ability to focus on what I'm doing and stay locked into the game and what I need to do to be successful, and I think the fans respect that."

Brian McTaggart is reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.