Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee shut out the Nationals on Tuesday, 5-0, two nights after Pedro Martinez threw 130 pitches in eight shutout innings Sunday in a 1-0 victory over the Mets. Two nights before that, Cole Hamels allowed one run in 6 2/3 innings to improve to 2-1 with a 1.52 ERA in his previous four starts.
The Phillies hold a seven-game lead over the Marlins in the National League East with 19 games to play.
They are pitching well at the right time.
"Our one to five is as good as anybody's," Lee said of a rotation that also includes Joe Blanton and J.A. Happ. "I don't think you necessarily have to have a 1-2 punch. I think we've got a 1-2-3-4-5 punch. That's neverending."
Lee is 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts with the Phillies, who acquired him July 29 in a six-player trade with the Indians. He went 5-0 with a 0.86 ERA in his first five starts, but 1-2 with a 9.60 ERA in his previous three.
Lee appears to have rebounded quite nicely. He threw the fourth shutout of his career, second of the season and first with the Phillies. It was his third complete game with the Phillies and sixth this season.
"I expect to be successful every time I take the mound," Lee said. "I expect to win. I expect to get deep into games and I expect to put up zeros. That's what I expect. If I'm thinking or expecting anything else, then I'm already beat."
Lee had dominated his first five starts with the Phillies, when he became him just the second pitcher in the past 60 years to win his first five starts with a team and post an ERA of 1.00 or less. (Fernando Valenzuela had a 0.20 ERA with the Dodgers in 1981.)
Lee looked great from the jump Tuesday. He struck out the side swinging in the first inning. He stayed out of trouble, except for the fourth, when he walked the bases loaded. His leadoff walk to Cristian Guzman was his first walk since Aug. 13 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, where he walked three.
It was a span of five starts without a walk.
Lee worked out of that jam and didn't allow a runner reach second base the rest of the game.
|"I expect to be successful every time I take the mound. I expect to win. I expect to get deep into games and I expect to put up zeros. That's what I expect. If I'm thinking or expecting anything else, then I'm already beat."|
|-- Cliff Lee|
"It's not very often you walk three guys in one inning and get out of there with a zero," Lee said. "So I'm pretty happy with that. And with the five-run lead, that's not the time to be walking people. Other than that one inning, I'm pretty pleased."
"Lee is a pro. They have a lot pros over there," Nationals interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "Lee and Pedro Martinez and Cole Hamels go deep in ballgames. That's a good formula for winning. Lee is pretty special. He has the great breaking ball. He sneaks that fastball by you. He is a real challenge."
The Phillies took a 1-0 lead in the first and a 5-0 lead in the second, when Raul Ibanez hit a leadoff double. Jayson Werth followed with a single and Pedro Feliz walked to load the bases. Carlos Ruiz then chopped a ball over third baseman Ryan Zimmerman's head and ino the left-field corner for a three-run double to make it 4-0. Ruiz, who went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, scored two batters later on Rollins' two-out single to center.
Ruiz is hitting .429 (18-for-42) with one homer and nine RBIs in his past 17 games.
"I feel great -- I'm relaxed," Ruiz said. "I'm not trying to do too much."
The last time the Phillies had shutouts in consecutive games was April 27-28, 2003, when Kevin Millwood threw a no-hitter in a 1-0 victory against the Giants at Veterans Stadium and Brett Myers, Dan Plesac and Jose Mesa combined for a 3-0 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.
Who would have imagined before the season started the Phillies would get back-to-back stellar performances from Martinez and Lee in September?
"I expected to have some shutouts," Manuel said.
But from those two guys?
"No, I didn't expect those two guys," he said. "But I don't [care] who throws them."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.