CLEVELAND -- It is Cliff Lee's mental focus, more than his mechanics or his command or the dazzling numbers he continues to string together in 2008, that has impressed manager Eric Wedge most. "What it takes to get [to that mental state] and hold onto it for two-plus hours," Wedge said, "says a great deal about him."
On Thursday night, Lee had to hold it even longer. His start against the Giants was delayed an hour and 42 minutes by rain. But when the skies cleared, Lee was locked in. He turned in yet another stellar outing that will stand as evidence of his All-Star starting worth, as the Indians avoided a sweep with a 4-1 victory in front of 25,257 at Progressive Field. In eight innings, Lee limited the Giants to a mere run on four hits. He walked one and set a career high with 11 strikeouts, and he looked to be in even greater command of the ballgame late than he was early. Did the rain delay affect him? "Evidently not," Wedge said with a laugh. To Lee, the delay didn't mean a thing. In fact, in this season of vindication after his much-publicized disaster of an '07, nothing seems to distract Lee from his robotic routine of preparing for starts. "I'm doing all the work I know I need to do to be ready," he said. "I try not to leave anything to chance. I know if I do the work I need to do, there's no reason I shouldn't have success. I'm healthy and my mechanics are sound, so if I do what I need to do, I can give the team a chance to win." Lee's teammates didn't give him much of a chance to win his 11th game in his previous two starts. He limited the opposition to two runs or less and went at least 6 1/3 innings in each of those outings, but he was done in by a lack of relief support late both times. The elusive 11th win, however, came easily this time around. The Indians had no trouble giving Lee adequate run support against Giants right-hander Matt Cain. Jamey Carroll tripled off the left-field wall to bring in one run in the third, and Jhonny Peralta doubled to center to bring home two more. In the fourth, Carroll added another run with a two-out RBI single up the middle. On an Indians team desperately searching for some offensive consistency, Carroll, the former utiltyman thrust into an everyday role because of Asdrubal Cabrera's struggles and Josh Barfield's finger injury, has been a pleasant surprise. He has batted .429 with seven RBIs and six multi-hit games over his last 15 games. "He's taken [the opportunity] and run with it," Wedge said. "He knows himself very well. It's been two-fold for Jamey. He's been a guy who's been starting innings and also had some big hits in RBI situations." Carroll's latter big hit extended the Tribe's lead back to three after Lee suffered his only hiccup -- Rich Aurilia's RBI single in the fourth. Aside from that, Lee (11-1, 2.34 ERA) was unflappable. He struck out the side after giving up a leadoff single to Bengie Molina in the seventh, and he was perfect in his eighth and final inning. "I had fastball command and was throwing my changeup over the plate for quality strikes," Lee said. "I was throwing it down when I needed to, keeping them off balance, and locating my fastball in and out and up and down." Lee was particularly successful at exposing the Giants' rookies. Six of his strikeouts came against first-timers Travis Denker, Brian Horwitz and John Bowker. "It was definitely a learning experience," Denker said. "Very impressive. I've never seen anything like that in a long time." The long time Lee had to wait to make this start turned out to be very much worth the wait. And the wait for that inevitable call to inform him he's on the American League All-Star team continues. All that really remains to be seen is whether or not Lee will get the starting nod in the July 15 Midsummer Classic at Yankee Stadium. Not that Lee -- mentally locked into the grind of the season -- is thinking about such a possibility. "I think about my next opponent that I've got to pitch to and try to prepare for that," he said. "I try not to get too far ahead of that. I'll start thinking about it if they tell me I made it. Until then, I'm not worried about it." That's the mental focus that has caught the attention of Wedge and made Lee just the third pitcher this season -- joining the Angels' Joe Saunders and the Diamondbacks' Brandon Webb -- to reach 11 wins. "Things are clicking a little more than [previous years]," Lee said. "It wasn't like I had bad habits before. I had stretches where I pitched pretty good, but not anything like this. It's not like I'm surprising myself. I've always had confidence in myself. It just seems like things are clicking."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.