By DENNIS DEITCH
ATLANTA – Cliff Lee had a month that no pitcher, in terms of strikeout and walk dominance, had ever matched or surpassed.
He also lost his last two starts of 2013, Friday night’s defeat a 1-0 loss to the Braves at Turner Field. He won’t pitch in October, again, this season. And although he has pitched terrifically in each of the last two seasons, and absolutely brilliantly in the last two Septembers, he is 35.
He wants another shot at a championship – but he isn’t going to pitch beyond his usefulness to get it.
“Yeah. I am getting up there in age,” Lee said after he worked eight stellar innings, striking out 13 Braves and walking none to make him the first pitcher in major-league history to have more than 50 strikeouts and allow one or no walks in a calendar month. “I’m 35 years old now and when this contract’s over I plan on going home, so I’m running out of opportunities.”
Barring injury, Lee has three more years on his contract, and when asked if he really planned on those three years being his final three years, Lee said yes.
Before speaking to the media after the game, the southpaw was speaking to his family via FaceTime on his iPhone. He was looking into the eyes of his children. He has grown weary of being limited to that view for six months every year.
“There are a lot of things that can happen between now and (the end of his contract in 2016),” Lee said, “but I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 and I’ve basically missed the first half of their lives. I’m financially able to shut it down, so … that’s how I feel right now.
“But when they time comes I might look at it differently.”
As Lee spoke about his future, he stood next to the locker of Roy Halladay, who went from a struggling season in 2012 to a miserable one in 2013 that included shoulder surgery, weight loss and a startling decrease in velocity.
Maybe that didn’t influence what he had to say next … but it’s tough to imagine it didn’t.
“I also want to finish being good,” Lee said, “not struggling and fumbling through at the end. I want to finish strong and take it to the house. Next year I want to win a World Series, then another one, then another one and take it to the house. That’s what I’m wanting to do.”
Lee finished September with an astounding 54 strikeouts and one walk in his five starts covering 39 innings. Two pitchers in history had ever had 50-plus strikeouts and two walks in a month, both of them former Phillies – Curt Schilling in May 2002 (62 K, 2 BB) and Pedro Martinez in August 2000 (51 K, 2 BB).
In his last two Septembers, Lee has a 1.63 ERA, 105 strikeouts and just four walks in 12 starts.
This start ended in a loss when Atlanta third baseman/fun cop Chris Johnson golfed a two-strike, ankle-high slider into the first row in left to lead off the bottom of the eighth. That was enough to give the Braves and Kris Medlen – who took a no-hitter two outs deep into the sixth inning – the victory.
There is a chance the Phillies will end the season with their first 90-loss season since 2000. They might have the money to turn things around quickly, but it will mean making some wily and aggressive decisions this winter.
Lee might want to be holding his children instead of looking at them on a smart phone screen, but he assured that he will be watching Ruben Amaro Jr. closely as well.
“I’m always curious to what they are going to do, no matter what,” Lee said. “When you know you’re going to be a part of an organization for years … it’s just the natural thing to do.
“What gives me hope is the fact that this has been a winning organization for quite a while, and you’ve got to expect the front office to make moves and do everything they can to keep that going.”
What Lee expects most is for his best efforts to no longer go to waste.