Lucky 13: Remembering Cliff Lee's brief Mariners career
Posted by Jerry Brewer
Let's revisit the Cliff Lee era (sounds funny, doesn't it?) in Seattle. We can do this because, well, Lee was a blur. It's like you invited him over for dinner, but he was forced to leave before the appetizer. Hate to meet and run, but Texas beckons.
Even though he lasted just 13 starts, Lee was dominant and professional. He finished with an 8-3 record, a 2.34 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP, 89 strikeouts and only six walks. He was a leader on a team that badly needed a role model. He knew he could be a short-timer, but he didn't act like one. For these reasons, he should depart with your utmost respect.
"My experience is Seattle has been great," Lee said in a news conference after the Mariners traded him to the Rangers.
The only disappointment was that it was too brief. But at least you can remember it vividly -- for now. Ten years from now, people outside of this city will lose trivia nights because they won't be able to recall that Lee pitched in Seattle. You won't forget, though, right?
His time wasn't short enough to count his starts on one hand, but you can scribble it on one sheet of paper. Or you can read this recap below.
April 30 vs. Texas
Lee's line: 7 IP, 3 H, 8 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners lost 2-0. No-decision for Lee.
Significance: It was Lee's debut after missing most of the first month with an abdominal injury. The Mariners ruined the fun with a pitiful offensive performance that included Eric Byrnes taking a pitch when a suicide squeeze play had been called. Afterward, Byrnes sped out of the clubhouse on a bicycle, and he was waived a few days later. Following that start, Lee's agent, Darek Braunecker, told ESPN's Buster Olney that he "wouldn't anticipate" his client striking a deal with the Mariners before free agency.
May 5 vs. Tampa Bay
Lee's line: 8 IP, 10 H, 5 R (4 ER), 5 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners lost 8-3. Lee (0-1) took the L.
Significance: It was the first time we realized Lee was human on the mound. He only did that to us one more time. It was the Mariners' fifth consecutive home loss in an absurd homestand that would see them drop 8 in a row. The Mariners also drew only 14,627 fans for that game, the second-smallest crowd in Safeco Field history.
May 11 vs. Baltimore
Lee's line: 7.1 IP, 8 H, 1 ER, 2 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners won 5-1. Lee (1-1) earned the W.
Significance: It was Lee's first win in three starts as a Mariner. "Since I've been back, I've felt good," he said afterward. "I've given the team a chance each time I've taken the mound. That's really all you can do a starter. So far, it's gone pretty good."
May 16 vs. Tampa Bay
Lee's line: 8 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 10 K's, 1 walk
Result: Mariners lost 2-1. Lee (1-2) took another hard-luck L.
Significance: In his fourth start, Lee walked a batter for the first time as a Mariner. He would only do that five more times.
May 21 vs. San Diego
Lee's line: 6.1 IP, 11 H, 8 R (7 ER), 7 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners won 15-8. Lee (2-2) got the W.
Significance: By far, the worst outing of Lee's time as a Mariner. It's the only time he failed to pitch at least seven innings. But he got a huge early lead and just tried to throw strikes and eat innings. His ERA rose to 3.44. This subpar performance triggered a stretch of superhuman performances.
May 28 vs. Los Angeles Angels
Lee's line: 8 IP, 4 H, 3 R (2 ER), 10 K's, two walks
Result: Mariners won 8-3. Lee (3-2) got the W.
Significance: In Lee's 200th career big-league appearance, he struggled in the first inning and allowed two runs. From there, he was dominant. Afterward, he earned effusive praise from his teammates for both his talent and consistency. "He's one of those guys who, when you look at the scoreboard and it says 91 or 92 miles an hour, you don't believe it because when it comes out of his hand, it's more like 95," second baseman Chone Figgins said. "He gets so much good extension on his release, and that makes it look faster than what it is." All that love despite walking multiple hitters for the first and last time as a Mariner.
June 2 vs. Minnesota
Lee's line: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 8 K's, 1 walk
Result: Mariners won 2-1. No-decision for Lee.
Significance: On the day Ken Griffey Jr. abruptly announced his retirement, with heavy emotions swirling, Lee did what he does best -- his job. He doesn't let anything affect him. Only a lack of run production -- and Lee allowing his first home run in 50 2/3 innings with Seattle -- kept him from getting the win. The Mariners won on an Ichiro single in the 10th inning, their only extra-innings victory this season.
June 7 vs. Texas
Lee's line: 9 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 7 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners won 4-2. Lee (4-2) got the W.
Significance: It was the first of four complete games for Lee.
June 12 vs. San Diego
Lee's line: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 7 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners lost 7-1. Lee (4-3) took the L.
Significance: It was Lee's last loss as Mariner. But it was also the ballclub's eighth defeat in nine games. Afterward, Lee showed some leadership by calling a players-only meeting.
June 18 vs. Cincinnati
Lee's line: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 ER, 7 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners won 1-0. Lee (5-3) got the W.
Significance: It was Lee's only complete-game shutout as a Mariner. This is when his Unfazed Dominator persona started to leap to another level.
June 23 vs. Chicago Cubs
Lee's line: 9 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 9 K's, zero walks
Result: Mariners won 8-1. Lee (6-3) got the W.
Significance: Another start, another no-walk complete. Trade rumors were flying all over the place, but Lee didn't care. Afterward, Ichiro was asked if he'd ever played with a pitcher so overpowering. "No," he said. "Not someone like this." Lee's reaction to his performance: "It went good."
June 29 vs. New York Yankees
Lee's line: 9 IP, 4 R (3 ER), 2 K's, 1 walk
Result: Mariners won 7-4. Lee (7-3) got the W.
Significance: In the new Yankee Stadium, Lee was dominant again and earned an unimaginable third straight complete-game victory. How high had the expectations for him become? He walked a batter -- his first in 38 1/3 innings -- and many reporters considered that anomaly a bigger story than controlling the Yankees or pitching the entire way again. The Unfazed Dominator was in the zone.
July 4 vs. Detroit
Lee's line: 8 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 11 K's, 1 walk
Result: Mariners won 8-1. Lee (8-3) got the W.
Significance: In Lee's swan start -- funny how it came on Independence Day -- he could've recorded his fourth straight complete game. But after 111 pitches and with a huge lead, manager Don Wakamatsu decided not to risk stretching him out anymore on a hot day. "I don't know what you can say about Cliff," Wakamatsu said. "He just goes out there and keeps doing this, start after start."
Well, it turns out there were two more things Wakamatsu could've said.
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