CLEVELAND -- Not many pitchers can give up the tying runs in a ballgame, then leave to a standing ovation. But if anyone has earned the honor this season, it's Cliff Lee, and the fans at Progressive Field on Wednesday night let him know it. Lee's bid to become the Majors' first 23-game winner since 2002 was thwarted when he squandered a 4-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning against the Twins. After the tying run came across, Lee handed the ball to manager Eric Wedge, who called upon reliever Ed Mujica, then walked to the home dugout from the mound for the final time in '08.
The majority of the crowd of 22,904 rose in appreciation of Lee, who is the Indians' first 20-game winner since 1974, a sure-fire American League Cy Young Award candidate and one of just four pitchers since 1900 to have a 22-2 record through 24 decisions. The crowd wanted a curtain call, but they didn't get one. "I was so focused on what had just happened that I didn't hear anything," Lee said. "I was frustrated about the way the inning went. That's all I was thinking about. If [the fans wanted a curtain call], I apologize. I was caught up in the moment." That Lee was locked-in on the moment should probably not come as a surprise. His mental focus is a big reason he's 22-2 with a Major League-best 2.41 ERA this season. On this night, though, Lee would not tie the record set by Vean Gregg in 1911. Instead, Lee took a no-decision in the Tribe's eventual 6-4 victory. He gave up four runs, three of which were earned, on 10 hits with three walks and five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings. Lee admitted he didn't have his best stuff, and his frustration mounted in the seventh. The Twins put two runners in scoring position when Alexi Casilla reached on a Jamey Carroll fielding error and Joe Mauer doubled. Wedge came out to look into Lee's eyes and see if he wanted to leave him in the game. Lee had already thrown 103 pitches. "He was confident he could do it," Wedge said. Lee couldn't get out of the jam, but he did avoid catastrophic damage. He got Justin Morneau to ground out to second, bringing home Casilla. Lee then got into a two-strike count on Delmon Young, but Young scooted a grounder into right field for an RBI single, and Lee was yanked. The no-decision was Lee's first in nine starts. He remains unbeaten in his last 13 starts, going 11-0 with a 2.40 ERA in that span. "I feel good about giving the team a chance to win," Lee said, "but I'm frustrated I gave up those two runs in the seventh." Frustration aside, Indians fans haven't witnessed a pitcher putting together a season of this caliber in a long, long time. And with an ovation in what would normally be an odd situation, they let Lee know how appreciative they are.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.