SEATTLE -- Whether it's the All-Star Game or a just routine regular-season contest, the setting obviously makes little difference to Indians ace left-hander Cliff Lee this year. Hand him a ball on the mound, and chances are a victory is soon to follow. Sunday afternoon was much of the same, as Lee scattered 11 hits in a complete game 6-2 victory against the Mariners in front of 32,230 at Safeco Field to give his team a series win as they head to Anaheim. "It's fun, he's really done a good job this year [and has] been able to throw all his pitches for strikes," said catcher Kelly Shoppach, "so he always makes me look like I'm calling the right pitch."
Lee has been so consistently effective in 2008 that the performance barely even lowered his microscopic ERA from 2.31 to 2.29. The Indians gave him four days of rest after he threw two shutout innings during his All-Star Game start in New York on Tuesday, and the lefty turned it into brilliant strategy with his dominant outing. "We wanted to make sure we gave him four days off," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "It [gave] him time to get back, get acclimated, get his feet underneath him, separate from [the All-Star Game] a little bit and get back into his routine." Fatigue certainly wasn't an issue on Sunday, thanks to Lee's efficiency and ability to attack the strike zone. Keeping a low pitch count the entire game, he had only nine balls and 42 strikes at one point in the sixth inning. His accuracy was a perfect match for a Seattle lineup that takes few pitches. He finished with three seven-pitch innings. "They were swinging early and making contact, putting the ball in play. And we were making defensive plays, so I could tell they were being aggressive early in the count," Lee said. "That kind of played into my game plan." The two Seattle runs came in the second inning off an RBI infield single from Jose Vidro and in the seventh on an RBI triple from Miguel Cairo. But in between, Lee scattered harmless hits and rarely got into jams. When he did face a dicey situation in the sixth with two runners on, he coaxed a comeback from Adrian Beltre and nonchalantly underhanded the ball to first base. Lee -- who claimed his American League-leading 13th win of the year -- said he had trouble locating his fastball in the strike zone, although the end result gave little indication of any problems. "Fortunately, I was able to get the curveball and the changeup over the plate and actually locate them a little bit," he said. "But my fastball was [off], I definitely missed over the plate and they got several hits due to that, but whatever. At least I was being aggressive and throwing strikes." Strikes were certainly not an issue Sunday, as Lee ended up hitting the zone with 84 of his 109 offerings -- a staggering 77 percent. "He's a lot of fun to catch," Shoppach said. "It's always fun when they keep making outs real quick -- you're not on the field very long." Shoppach also found a way to help Lee on the offensive side. With the score tied at 1 in the fourth and two runners on, he rode Carlos Silva's first pitch out over the left-field wall for a 4-1 lead that would be more than enough cushion for his batterymate. "We feel pretty confident with Cliff on the mound. If we can get him a couple runs early, he can make it stand up for us," said Shoppach, who added an RBI single in the fifth. "It was nice to get that, to get some pressure off him." The win allowed the Indians to win a second consecutive series and keep the momentum going after dropping the series opener Friday. Going back to the Tampa Bay series before the All-Star break, they have won six of their last seven games. And the routine win embodied the philosophy Wedge has been preaching for the past three days -- simple plays lead to successful results. "If we play solid baseball, and we take advantage of opportunities, make pitches when we need to make pitches, execute at home plate, square the ball up a little more ... we don't have to play extraordinary to win ball games," he said. "We just have to play good baseball to do that." Easier said than done, and much easier when Lee is on the mound spinning his magic.
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.