NEW YORK – The ho-hum catch that tickled his teammates, the behind-the-back snag that looked so easy.
Cliff Lee could have been clowning around with his kids. Hard to believe it was Game 1 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium, of all places.
Lee outdueled CC Sabathia, Chase Utley homered twice and the Philadelphia Phillies kept rolling through October, beating New York 6-1 on a misty Wednesday night in the opener.
“To be honest, I really never have been nervous in the big leagues. This is what I wanted to do my whole life,” Lee said.
The defending champion Phillies shut down Alex Rodriguez & Co. in the first Series game at the new billion-dollar ballpark. Trying to become the first National League team to repeat since Cincinnati in 1975-76, the Phils’ 17-4 postseason run is the best in league history.
“We have confidence. We know we have a good team,” Utley said.
Game 2 is tonight, with wily Pedro Martinez pitching for the Phillies against jumpy A.J. Burnett.
Lee bamboozled the Yankees with a spiked curveball, deceptive change-up and his usual pinpoint fastball, pitching a six-hitter while striking out 10 without a walk.
The lefty blanked the Yankees until a run scored on shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ throwing error in the ninth inning. Lee improved to 3-0 with an 0.54 ERA this postseason.
He really seemed to enjoy himself, too.
“Game time is the time go out there and have fun and let your skills take over. It’s kind of weird. Boils down to confidence and trusting your teammates,” he said.
If Lee felt any anxiety in his Series debut, facing the team that led the majors in wins, homers and runs, it didn’t show. If the Phillies were supposed to be intimidated by the pictures of Babe Ruth and all the Yankees greats on the giant videoboard, it didn’t happen.
Pitching in short sleeves on a blustery evening, Lee worked a wad of gum while he worked his spell over the Yanks.
Lee did a lot of the work himself. When Johnny Damon hit a little popup to the mound, Lee merely stuck out his glove hand to the side and caught the ball as if it were an apple falling from a tree.
“You know, it was pretty cool,” Lee said. “It was 15 feet in the air. Pretty simple catch. It came right to me.”
That play left the Phillies laughing. Later, he made a nifty, behind-the-back stop on Robinson Cano’s one-hopper. He threw the ball to first and shrugged. Easy.
That play stumped Ryan Howard.
“I was like … wow. Am I missing something? It was so nonchalant, so casual,” the Phillies first baseman said.
“I try not to go over the edge and be cocky,” Lee said.
Howard reprised his N.L. Championship Series MVP performance, doubling twice and driving in the final run. Barely looking like the 2-to-1 underdogs they are, the Phillies were in such control that many fans left before the final out.
Lee beat his good friend and former Cy Young teammate Carsten Charles Sabathia in the first game at this ballpark back in April, and got this chance after the Phillies traded four minor leaguers to Cleveland in July to get him.
Rodriguez went hitless and struck out three times in his Series debut.
“I did keep it simple today. He kept it even more simple,” Rodriguez said. “He threw the ball well. When a guy comes out like that, you tip your cap and move on. He made some pretty good pitches.”
Derek Jeter did the most damage against Lee, doubling and singling twice.
“He was great. He’s been pitching like that the whole year, the last two years, the postseason,” Jeter said. “I don’t think it’s much of a surprise.”
So Game 1 went to the Phils. But as Yankees manager Joe Girardi observed, “One thing, he can’t pitch every day.”
Playing in their 40th World Series, and first in six years, the Yankees went quickly. “As the game went on, it got quieter,” Utley said.
Utley’s solo home runs in the third and sixth innings gave Lee all the support he needed. Raul Ibanez hit a two-run single in the eighth and Shane Victorino added an RBI single in the ninth.
The Phillies’ may have been a bit overdue – in their only other October meeting, the Whiz Kids from Philadelphia got swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series and totaled just five runs.
Even though he’s an All-Star, Utley was an unlikely candidate to rock Sabathia, the MVP of the ALCS. Utley was 0 for 7 with five strikeouts against the big Yankees lefty going into the game.
Utley won a nine-pitch duel with Sabathia in the third, pulling a 95 mph fastball barely over the right-field wall. The shot was the first by a left-hander allowed by Sabathia at home this year. Utley struck again in the sixth, sending another 95 mph heater deep into the right-center field bleachers.
Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had little to do except watch from the top step of the dugout. Girardi was busier, bringing in five relievers after Sabathia left following the seventh inning with the Phillies ahead 2-0.
After a rocky postseason, umpires faced just one tricky call and got it right. They huddled after Rollins trapped a popup and threw to first, and correctly ruled it a double play.
Phillies 6, Yankees 1
E—Rollins (1). LOB—Philadelphia 7, New York 4. 2B—Howard 2 (2), C.Ruiz (1), Jeter (1). HR—Utley 2 (2), off Sabathia 2. RBIs—Victorino (1), Utley 2 (2), Howard (1), Ibanez 2 (2). SB—Rollins (1). RLISP—Philadelphia 3 (Ibanez 2, B.Francisco); New York 2 (Damon, Posada). RMU—Utley, Howard. GIDP—P.Feliz. DP—Philadelphia 1 (Rollins, Howard); New York 1 (A.Rodriguez, Cano, Teixeira).
|Cl.Lee W, 1-0||9||6||1||0||0||10||0.00|
|Sabathia L, 0-1||7||4||2||2||3||6||2.57|
IR-S—D.Marte 2-0, D.Robertson 2-2, Coke 2-1. T—3:27. A—50,207 (52,325).