DETROIT -- Memo to the Baseball Writers' Association of America: Print the award ballots prematurely, and scribble Cliff Lee's name next to "American League Cy Young." Let's just get this thing over with.
This is Lee's suggestion, mind you. Not because he pitched the Indians to their ninth straight win in a 10-4 victory over the Tigers and improved to 19-2 on Tuesday night. And not because he feels he is without competition in the Cy Young field. Lee would simply like to avoid being asked about the potential honor any more than he already has. "It's something people vote on at the end of the season," Lee said with a shrug. "I wish they could vote right now." Alas, he'll have to wait. But when those ballots are released, the voters will no doubt have to consider the history being made by Lee this season. With his 7 2/3 strong innings at Comerica Park, Lee not only placed himself on the doorstep of becoming the Tribe's first 20-game winner in 34 years, he also joined a pretty exclusive club in baseball lore. According to Stats Inc., Lee is just the eighth pitcher since 1920 to win 19 or more of his first 21 decisions. The others were the Philadelphia Athletics' Lefty Grove (19-2 in 1931), the Brooklyn Dodgers' Roe Preacher (19-2 in 1951), the Yankees' Whitey Ford (19-2 in 1961), the Giants' Gaylord Perry (19-2 in 1966), the Yankees' Ron Guidry (19-2 in 1978), the Braves' Greg Maddux (19-2 in 1995) and the Yankees' Roger Clemens (20-1 in 2001).
Lee didn't join that impressive company by putting any extra emphasis on a particular start. He's been riding a "one game at a time" mentality all season, and he has no intention of changing it now that he's a win away from No. 20. "I just want to go as deep into the game as I can and try to put up zeroes," he said. The Indians have been putting up nothing but victories, of late, and they had to know they were in good shape to win nine in a row for the first time in more than three years when they sent Lee to the mound. Just for good measure, they assisted their ace with another outpouring of runs. This was the second time in as many starts that Lee was afforded 10 runs of support. The bulk of the backing came in a six-run third inning, in which the Indians unloaded on Tigers right-hander Chris Lambert, who was making his big league debut. Jamey Carroll's first homer of the season got the Tribe on the board, and Kelly Shoppach followed with a solo shot of his own to make it 2-0. "Shoppy hit his a little farther and a little deeper than mine," Carroll said. "That got us on a roll." The Indians rolled on with the assistance of some defensive mishaps. Third baseman Ryan Raburn's error on a ball hit by Franklin Gutierrez allowed Gutierrez to reach and Asdrubal Cabrera to score. Left fielder Marcus Thames' error on Jhonny Peralta's single allowed Gutierrez to score from second. The big inning continued when David Dellucci doubled home a run, and Carroll singled in another to knock Lambert out of the game. A pair of two-run homers from Ben Francisco off reliever Aquilino Lopez in the fourth and seventh innings just added to a lead it was clear Lee would not relinquish. Unlike his previous start against the Tigers on July 30 -- when he was afforded an 8-1 lead, threw it on cruise control and watched the lead wither away -- Lee stayed sharp throughout this outing. His only inning that required real effort was the fifth, when the Tigers struck with Raburn's RBI double and Brandon Inge's RBI single before Lee worked himself out of the jam. "I definitely remembered the last time," Lee said. "I tried to treat it like a 0-0 game and pitch the way I would if it was closer." That mental focus is the foundation of what has been nothing short of an astounding '08 for Lee. "I think when you look at what he's done," manager Eric Wedge said, "his consistency is more impressive than anything." And the Indians, for the first time all season, are playing consistent ball. They have won 15 of their last 18 games since Aug. 8. That's allowed them to climb from last place in the AL Central to the third-place spot they stole from the Tigers with this win. "We're playing better baseball, more consistent baseball," Wedge said. "We're finding different ways to win ballgames. That's what it takes over the course of a season. You don't want to be one dimensional." But Lee, of course, has been one constant contributor to the win ledger. "Hopefully we finish strong," he said. "I'm going to do all I can to finish strong." And then it's in the voters' hands.
|Only eight pitchers in MLB history have won as many as 19 of their first 21 decisions in a season.|
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.