CLEVELAND – A year ago Cliff Lee was sent to the minors and didn’t make the Indians’ postseason roster.
Through the first month of this season, his story couldn’t be any different.
“He’s probably one of the best pitchers going right now,” Seattle manager John McLaren said after Lee won his fifth straight start, leading the Indians to an 8-3 win Wednesday night.
Lee’s consecutive scoreless innings streak ended at 27 on Wladimir Balentien’s three-run homer in the seventh. That raised his ERA from 0.28 to 0.96, still lowest in the majors.
“I try to put up zeros every inning,” Lee said. “It had to come to an end eventually.”
Lee (5-0) was pulled after the homer, the only runs he allowed in six innings. The left-hander has given up four earned runs in 372/3 innings in his five starts.
Prior to Balentien’s homer, Lee hadn’t allowed an earned run since the fourth inning against Oakland on April 13.
“You wouldn’t ever expect that from anyone at this level,” Indians manager Eric Wedge said. “This is the highest level of baseball in the world. It’s pretty special.”
Franklin Gutierrez drove in three runs on an RBI single in the fourth and a two-run single in the fifth.
Seattle starter Jarrod Washburn (1-4) allowed six runs in 41/3 innings for his third straight loss.
After going 46-24 from 2004-2006, Lee struggled to a 5-8 record and 6.29 ERA last season. He was sent to Triple-A Buffalo in July and had to win the fifth starter’s spot over Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers in spring training.
“We’ve won every time I’ve pitched,” Lee said. “That’s the goal. I’m happy.”
So is his manager.
“Sometimes when guys go through tough times, they find out a lot about themselves,” Wedge said.
“He’s been a good pitcher in the past,” McLaren said. “I don’t know what happened last year.”
The slumbering Indians offense finally woke up. Grady Sizemore homered in the first, the 12th time in his career he has led off a game with a home run. Ryan Garko added a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
After Gutierrez made it 3-0, the Indians put it away with a five-run fifth. Victor Martinez and Casey Blake had RBI doubles, Gutierrez drove in two with a single and Jason Michaels added a sacrifice fly.
Martinez extended his hitting streak to 12 games and is hitting .366. His five plate appearances qualify him for the league lead in batting average.
Balentien and catcher Jeff Clement were called up from Triple-A Tacoma before the game. Outfielder Brad Wilkerson and infielder Greg Norton were designated for assignment.
It was an especially long day for Balentien, who started in right field after he and Clement caught a 6 a.m. flight from Tacoma. The two also dealt with a bumpy landing when they arrived in Cleveland.
“I think it was lucky we didn’t blow all the tires out,” Balentien said.
Prior to the game, McLaren said Balentien would be the Mariners’ everyday right fielder.
“It was a quality pitch,” Lee said. “I put the first two guys on. I got behind him and I didn’t want to walk him. I tip my hat to him.”
“It was a fastball away,” Balentien said. “I hit it well.”
Lee is 6-1 in nine career games against Seattle. … Designated hitter Travis Hafner, in a 7-for-51 slump, didn’t play for the Indians. … Garko was 0 for 1 with a sacrifice fly, a walk and a hit by pitch. He’s hitless in his last 24 at-bats. … Seattle center fielder Ichiro Suzuki threw out Blake at the plate in the fourth inning.
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