NEW YORK -- It remains to be seen whether his mastery will allow the Phillies to celebrate a second consecutive World Series title. But whatever happens, Cliff Lee has certainly already guaranteed that he'll never again have to answer questions about the possibility that he might succumb to the pressures of the postseason.
"It's been a long time since I've been nervous playing this game," Lee said. "It's what I've been doing my whole life."
Lee has undoubtedly established himself as one of the game's best pitchers over the course of the past two years. Nevertheless, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner had certainly never experienced anything that would have prepared him to be as dominant and downright cool as he was while leading the Phillies to a 6-1 win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday night.
"This is the same game I've been playing my whole life, and this is the stage that I've wanted to get to from a little kid," Lee said after seeing a ninth-inning unearned run stand as the only thing that separated him from marking his World Series debut with a shutout.
While going the distance, Lee lowered his career postseason ERA to 0.54. This stands as the best mark recorded by a pitcher who has completed at least 30 postseason innings.
"He seems like he's been in a rhythm for the last year and a half," said Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who struck out in three of his at-bats against Lee. "He's been pitching at a great pace, using four pitches, pounding both sides of the strike zone doing a lot of things well, so [we] turn the page."
In the process of limiting the Yankees to six hits and tossing his second complete game of the postseason, Lee displayed a sense of youthful innocence. Not intimidated by the raucous Yankee Stadium crowd or potent lineup that served as his opposition, the Phillies southpaw found the strike zone with great regularity and made a couple of defensive plays that would have made the Harlem Globetrotters proud.
Going the distance
Cliff Lee recorded the first Game 1 complete-game victory in 14 years.
"He definitely was in a zone tonight," Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino said after seeing Lee find the strike zone with 80 of his 122 pitches and encounter a three-ball count against just three of the 32 batters that he faced.
Lee needed more than six pitches to record just two of his 27 outs, and it was at the conclusion of one of these seven-pitch at-bats that he provided reason to wonder if he does have ice water running through his veins.
After Derek Jeter singled with one out in the sixth, Johnny Damon ended his seven-pitch at-bat with a pop fly that a flat-footed Lee fielded with his right hand nonchalantly protruding from his right hip. It was as if he was catching a soft toss that might have been projected from a distance of just a few feet.
"I was just like, 'Wow,'" Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard said.
"I don't know, it's 15 feet in the air and came right to me," Lee said. "It was a pretty simple catch. Whatever. I don't know. I caught it. He was out. So that's all that really matters."
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was more impressed with the behind-the-back grab that Lee made on Robinson Cano's comebacker to begin the eighth inning.
"I liked the one behind his back," Manuel said. "Popup, he was trying to pull a Willie Mays on us or something. But outside of that, he was very good."
"I don't know how I caught that ball," Lee said. "To be successful at this level, you've got to be confident. You've got to go out there and think you're going to get everybody out and think you can. I definitely do that. I try not to go over the edge and rub things in and be cocky, but I definitely have confidence, there's no doubt about it."
While getting his first taste of the postseason this year, Lee has actually been greater than good. When Jeter and Damon opened the ninth inning with consecutive singles, it marked just the third time in the course of 17 innings that an opponent had moved into scoring position against Lee.
Lee, who hasn't issued a walk in his past two starts, saw his scoreless innings streak snapped at 16 one batter later, when shortstop Jimmy Rollins made an errant throw on a double-play relay to first base. Still the ever-composed hurler responded to this by striking out the final two batters of the night.
"I'll pat myself on the back when it's over hopefully, but until then I'm going to keep grinding and do everything I do each day to prepare for my next outing and leave it at that," Lee said.
Manuel hasn't said whether Lee will come back to pitch Sunday's Game 4 on short rest. Instead, he's going to spend some more time enjoying the latest gem that his club found on July 29, when they acquired him in a trade with the Indians.
"You know, when we got him, I knew he was good," Manuel said. "I had seen him before. But if you want to know the truth, I didn't know that he was as good as he's been. When you see him pitch tonight, he had all of his pitches going."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.