Lee dominates Angels for first victory
Southpaw flirts with no-hitter en route to complete game
ANAHEIM -- Cliff Lee wasn't going to try to make anyone believe he didn't know what was going on.Five innings into his outing on Tuesday night, he wasn't oblivious to that zero hanging in the Angels' hits column. "I pretty much knew the whole time, to be honest," Lee said. "I'm not one of those superstitious guys who thinks he's got to not say anything or not notice." Alas, the no-hit bid ended when Mike Napoli lined a double off the right-field wall with one out in the sixth. So Lee just had to settle for a complete game. Masterful in his second start since coming off the 15-day disabled list, Lee pitched the Indians to a 5-1 victory in the opener of their three-game set at Angel Stadium. He was getting first-pitch strikes and quick outs, and he was backed by an offense that delivered early, late and in-between. "Things were working," Lee said. "There are times where you go inside, and they're looking in, or you go outside and they're looking out. This was the opposite. Things were clicking." The offense clicked early in Lee's favor, with Casey Blake drawing a first-inning walk off Ervin Santana and Victor Martinez driving Blake in with a two-out single up the middle. In the fourth, Martinez added to the slim lead with a solo home run that just barely carried over the left-center field wall. It became a 3-0 lead in the fifth, when Blake, who came into this game batting just 2-for-32 with runners in scoring position, bucked the trend by driving home Josh Barfield with an single to the right side. "Casey did a great job in the two-hole," manager Eric Wedge said. "Offensively, Vic had a couple of big hits, but Casey was the one setting the table for him." No one was setting the table for the Angels. Not with the way Lee was throwing. Through five innings, the only baserunner Lee allowed came in the fourth, when he walked leadoff man Reggie Willits. But he still faced the minimum, as he got Gary Matthews Jr. to ground into a double play later in the inning. Lee had solid command of his fastball, but it was his changeup that was really giving the Angels fits. "They were swinging at it as if it was a fastball," Lee said. And with none of those swings amounting to anything, Lee found himself in a position to potentially pull off what he later called a "freakish" feat -- the no-no. But a no-no it was not. Napoli's sixth-inning double on a changeup down and away ended it, and Willits' single one out later ended the shutout, as well. Now, Lee found himself in a tight, 3-1 ballgame, but Blake helped lighten the mood a little bit in a quick conference near the mound. "[Blake] said, 'What are you giving up hits for?'" Lee recalled with a smile. "'You're not supposed to give up hits.'" And just like that, Lee stopped giving up hits again. He retired seven of the next eight batters he faced, though he did hit Napoli with a pitch in the eighth. Blake gave Lee some insurance backing with another two-out, RBI single in the ninth, and Travis Hafner also brought home a run when he grounded out with a runner on third. With a 5-1 lead in hand, Lee was focused on notching just the second nine-inning complete game of his career (third complete game overall). The only thing standing in his way was that ever-present "Rally Monkey" the Angels throw up on their scoreboard to inspire some late-inning heroics. But that tactic wasn't going to work on Lee. "I like the Rally Monkey," he said. "You look at all the things [teams] put up on the scoreboard, and that's the coolest one around. It gets me pumped up." Not pumped enough, however, to avoid letting Willits aboard with a walk and Orlando Cabrera on with a single with none out. Lee wasn't rattled, though. He retired the heart of the Angels' order to finish off the game. "He commanded the ballgame throughout," Wedge said of Lee. "He stayed away from patterns and made pitches when he needed to. You never expect that. It was only his second start back." Lee believes he jeopardized his first start against the Blue Jays by trying to be too fine in the early innings. He gave up give runs in six innings in that no-decision. "By the end of that game, I was letting the ball go a little better," he said. "I was letting my body do what it does." Efficiency has never been Lee's forte, but the way he let the ball go on this night allowed him to throw all nine while using 102 pitches. "I felt strong," he said. "I felt stronger as the game went on, actually. I didn't get the no-hitter. So what? I made it five innings without giving up a hit. I'm proud of that."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.