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07/22/07 2:00 AM ET
Lee's inconsistency dooms Tribe in loss
Lefty allows five runs in first, then one hit over next five innings
By Ken Daley / Special to MLB.com
ARLINGTON -- Cliff Lee admitted his Saturday night start against Texas looked almost like two different games. The real question, which might have prompted the 27-minute team meeting that followed the game, was why? The Lee who started the Indians' 8-5 loss to Texas appeared nonchalant and unprepared for the immediate aggressiveness of the Rangers' hitters. He was battered for five runs on six hits in the first inning, digging an early hole from which the Indians could not recover. The Lee who fought through that embarrassment dominated the Rangers much more aggressively for the next 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and two hits in that span. "As disappointing as that first inning was, maybe it's something that helped something click inside of him," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "Because the pitcher we saw for six innings after that was the guy we've been looking for, and hopefully he'll can take it from there." Wedge spoke to reporters in a tunnel within Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, keeping the media and clubhouse attendants outside his team's room in violation of Major League Baseball's mandated 10-minute cooling-off period. It took 27 minutes before things had sufficiently cooled inside the clubhouse, and when reporters were finally allowed in, players were scarce and saying little. "It's my birthday," explained pitcher C.C. Sabathia, who indeed had turned 27 on Saturday. "The guys just wanted to sing me 'Happy Birthday.'" Noting the length of the postgame get-together, one reporter quizzically asked Sabathia how many verses that song had. Wedge apologized to reporters in the hallway but would not divulge the reason for the meeting. "It's just things that happen during a season," he said. "A little housecleaning. It's always a good thing." Asked whether an incident on the field, in the dugout or in the clubhouse had prompted the meeting, Wedge was evasive. "No, no, it's just that time of year," he said. "When the players want to get together and do it on their own, I totally support that. We're a tight group, a tight team. Close-knit, I should say. And this is all part of it. We've got leaders on this team." Among those leaders is All-Star catcher Victor Martinez. And signs pointed toward an apparent confrontation between him and Lee that prompted the meeting. "I'm not going to comment on that," Martinez said. "You want to talk about the game, I'll be more than happy to answer." "Nah, we're fine," Lee said of his relationship with the catcher. "No issues." Then why the meeting? "Private," Lee said. "Just an in-house meeting to discuss some things we needed to discuss." Whatever the case, it certainly appeared Lee (5-7) came out a bit too lackadaisical to avoid losing his third consecutive start. The 28-year-old left-hander is 0-3 with a 10.69 ERA since his last win on July 1, and has lost seven of his last 10 decisions overall. And whatever transpired after the Rangers' five-run first, Lee certainly appeared a more determined pitcher after that. Wedge and Martinez agreed a more aggressive approach by Lee proved helpful. "I just thought he was more aggressive [after the first]," Wedge said. "He did a better job with his fastball and that, in turn, made his secondary pitches more effective. ... He just wasn't quite able to finish out that seventh. He was up there, pitch count-wise, and we really couldn't push it any further. They broke it open from there." "He just had a really tough first inning, but he was able to battle and keep us in the game," Martinez said of Lee. "They came out swinging. They were hitting everything. But he was able to make some good pitches when he was behind in the count, and that was the key for him after the first inning." Martinez said he and Lee were on the same page, despite the pitcher's recent difficulties. "It's going to happen," Martinez said. "As hitters, we're going to go through slumps. And pitchers, the same thing. But he was more aggressive on the mound after the first inning." Lee speculated that "maybe I was throwing too many fastballs" in the first, perhaps a point of contention between the pitcher and his catcher. "They were hitting it," Lee said. "I kind of locked in after that and started locating a little better and keeping the ball down. It was like two different games." Among the Rangers' six hits in the first were RBI doubles by Mark Teixeira and Gerald Laird, and a two-run double by Marlon Byrd. Texas starter Jamey Wright took a one-hit shutout into the fourth before melting down. The Indians scored three runs that inning without a hit. Third baseman Travis Metcalf let a runner aboard with a one-out fielding error, then Wright walked the next three batters and hit Josh Barfield with a pitch, gifting two runs to the Indians. Ron Mahay (2-0) relieved Wright and induced a bases-loaded grounder from Grady Sizemore for the third run, cutting the Texas lead to 5-3. When Sizemore led off the seventh with his 17th home run, the Indians were within one, 5-4. Lee retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the seventh, but then gave up a single to Michael Young and walked Teixeira. Tom Mastny relieved Lee but walked pinch-hitter Adam Melhuse to load the bases, setting the stage for a three-run triple by Byrd. Two of the runs were charged to Lee, and Byrd had matched his career high with a five-RBI game. Lee also did not ingratiate himself to Rangers fans on Sammy Sosa 600 Home Run Night. After the Rangers' designated hitter was honored in a pregame ceremony for becoming the fifth player to reach that milestone on June 20, Lee knocked Sosa out of the game with a third-inning fastball to the head. "I just tried to throw a fastball in, and it got away from me," Lee said. "I would never try to hit anybody in the head. Hopefully, he's all right." The pitch struck the left earflap of Sosa's helmet, but he was deemed to have no concussion symptoms and did not require a hospital examination.
Ken Daley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.