Cliff Lee beats Yankees with one hand behind his back

Pitcher Cliff Lee's extraordinary effort in the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Yankees in Game 1 of the World Series included a behind-the-back catch.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    The Philadelphia Phillies' Cliff Lee pitches during the first inning of game one of the World Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium in New York.
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The great athletes are supposed to make their sports look easy.

But perhaps not this easy.

For Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, it was not enough merely to bamboozle the most fearsome lineup in professional baseball with pitches no one but Tim McCarver had ever even heard of. (A "spike curve"? Seriously?)

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Nor was it enough to do it in the World Series.

No, the cherry atop of Lee's sparkling 6-1 win over the New York Yankees in Game 1 of the Fall Classic Wednesday night was that he did all of this while looking vaguely like your next-door neighbor mowing his lawn.

In other words: roaming around the mound with the vague expression of someone who appeared to be wondering if he left the oven on.

In the sixth inning he caught Johnny Damon's pop-up with a nonchalance bordering on arrogance. Never mind that this was the first World Series game that he had ever played – that it was Game 1 in Yankee Stadium, the namesake and descendant of the amphitheater that is to baseball what Mount Olympus was to the Greek Olympiad.

This effort will do just fine, thanks.

Over the course of nine innings, Lee also managed to catch a ball behind his back, strike out 10 Yankees, walk none, and give up only one run (which was unearned).

Not that this really should have been very surprising.

He entered Wednesday's game with a 2-0 record in the 2009 playoff, allowing only 0.74 earned runs per nine innings, and he also happens to be the reigning American League Cy Young winner.

Yet when contending teams lined up their 30 milk-goats and dozen she-camels at the trading deadline, it was the Blue Jays' Roy Halladay they sought. By comparison, the Phillies basically came to the Cleveland Indians (Lee's former team) at night and threw rocks at the window.

Since that Aug. 1 elopement – and particularly on Wednesday night – the Phillies could be forgiven for thinking that they came away with the belle of the ball.

From the first inning onward, the Yankees batted as though they were Luke Skywalker with the blast shield down . In a league where only fastballs tipping the upper 90s can consistently catch batters swinging late, Lee managed to blow strike three by two of the Yankees' best hitters – Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez – with pitches of 84 and 86 m.p.h. in the first and second innings.

All night, the Yankees simply had no idea what was coming.

At the end of the seventh inning, it was a 2-0 rout. In theory, the Yankees were only two batters from tying the game. But they never looked remotely like doing it.

Considering the Yankees scored 32 more runs and hit 22 more homeruns than the next-best major league team during the regular season, that is no small feat. Their lineup is like a trek across the Nefud desert for most pitchers – a vain search for some resting place where a decent fastball won't be scorched into the right field seats.

On Wednesday, however, Lee hardly broke a sweat. Now, he has pitched 33-1/3 innings of postseason baseball in his career and allowed two earned runs – a 0.54 ERA.

That now makes him (statistically speaking) the best postseason pitcher in the history of baseball. No one's ERA is lower. Not Cy Young's, not Sandy Koufax's. No one's.

So it was perhaps appropriate that on baseball's Mount Olympus Wednesday night, it was Lee throwing the thunderbolts.

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