CLEVELAND -- The final line on Cliff Lee's 22nd win may be about as bad a representation of Lee's dominance Friday night as the way in which he spins what has become one of the best seasons had by an Indians pitcher. "He threw too good to look back at the line score and see it the way it is," Kelly Shoppach said after the Indians' 12-5 win Friday night at Progressive Field. "He did what he did all year." Which is exactly the problem. When it comes to having Lee take a moment to reflect on the magnitude of what he has accomplished just one season since he was banished to Triple-A Buffalo, it's tough to crack the 30-year-old left-hander.
"I expect myself to give the team a chance to win every time," said Lee, who went 8 1/3 innings and allowed five runs on 11 hits. "What I've done in the past really doesn't matter. I've got to continue to get ready for my next start and I'll continue to do that all the way to the end." That's why it's best to let others, such as manager and former catcher Eric Wedge, heap on the well-deserved praise. "I know there have been some tremendous pitching seasons by starting pitchers and different individuals over the years," Wedge said, "but this is without a doubt, nothing like I've ever seen." At a Major League-best 22-2, Lee is the first pitcher to be 20 games over .500 since Bob Welch was 27-6 in 1990. Lee is now just one win shy of tying Vean Gregg as the Indians' winningest left-hander in a season. His 11 wins in his last 11 decisions is the longest streak in the Majors this season and the longest since Chris Carpenter won 13 straight in 2005. He is the Majors' first 22-game winner since Dontrelle Willis did it in 2005. All that's missing is the American League Cy Young Award that nearly every pitcher Lee surpasses with milestone after milestone eventually collected. Getting Lee to discuss the inevitable award, however, is about as easy as tattooing him for a big inning. Not even Wedge wants to talk about it just yet. "We talk about awards when the season is over," Wedge said. "But it goes without saying that the type of year Cliff is having speaks for itself." Aside from a rough ninth inning, Lee may have had his easiest night of the year against the Royals on Friday. The Royals, who Lee saw just last Friday at Kansas City, attacked him from the start by swinging away early in the count. That was just fine for Lee, who attacked back with hittable fastballs, which mostly ended up in his fielders' mitts. "Honestly, they really didn't give me much of a chance to have to pitch that much," Lee said. "They were swinging within the first couple of pitches." The Indians came out swinging, too, as they staked Lee to an early 1-0 lead after Shin-Soo Choo's RBI single scored Jamey Carroll. But Lee uncharacteristically gave that lead right back in the second inning. It could have been much worse, though. With a run already across and runners on the corners, Lee stabbed a Tony Pena shot up the middle, but bobbled it in the process, negating his chances at turning an inning-ending double play. Smartly, Lee slung a fastball to home to gun Esteban German down at for the second out. "He made a bad throw," Shoppach said with a smirk. "I got lucky to catch it." Lee's good luck continued as Mike Aviles followed with a single to right field, but Franklin Gutierrez's throw just beat a sliding Mark Teahen at the plate. "Obviously, anytime there's a play at the plate they're big," Lee said. "If we don't make the play, they score." The Indians made Lee's fifth win in as many decisions against the Royals this season that much easier by scoring in nearly every inning. Shoppach's 20th homer of the year off Gil Meche -- a second-inning solo shot -- gave back the lead to the Indians for good before they tacked on four more runs in the fifth inning. With runners on second and third, Choo plated Grady Sizemore with an RBI single to take a 3-1 lead. After Jhonny Peralta struck out, Ben Francisco knocked in Carroll and Choo with a double down the line before Shoppach capped the scoring with a broken-bat single. Sizemore, who snapped an 0-for-25 skid the inning before, countered Jose Guillen's solo homer in the sixth inning with a two-run double in the bottom half of the inning before coming around to score on Peralta's sacrifice fly to further extend the Indians' lead. "You know he was going to come through it," Wedge said. "We've got such great belief in [Sizemore] even when he is struggling a little bit." It's safe to say that Wedge believes in Lee, too, which is why he kept him in for the ninth inning with the Indians up by double digits. But, that's when Lee suddenly became mortal, as Guillen tagged him for his second homer of the game. Two more singles and an RBI double from Teahen, and Lee's night was over before Jensen Lewis closed it out. "Guillen's first-pitch home run, I threw a good pitch, fastball away, and he hit it. Gotta tip my hat on that one," Lee said. "The ball Teahen hit, cutter away right where I'm trying to throw it, and he hits it. I've gotta tip my hat to him there, too." Even in his roughest of innings, which have been few and far between, Lee's confidence certainly hasn't skipped a beat. As for a simple pat on his own back? That will just have to wait. "It's not over yet," Lee said. "So far, it's gone pretty good."
Andrew Gribble is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.