The Philadelphia Phillies signed Cliff Lee to a big free-agent contract before the 2011 season, reasoning that they needed one more ace pitcher in addition to Roy Halladay to keep them going to the postseason.
Lee has not disappointed; Thursday night he threw his major league leading fifth shutout of the season and the Phillies won their seventh in a row, defeating the Giants 3-0.
Lee's season has been streaky; he threw three straight shutouts in June, posting a 0.21 ERA during the month and at one point throwing 34 consecutive scoreless innings. But in July, he struggled, posting a mediocre 4.91 ERA and winning just once.
August appears to have ended those troubles, at least for now; he threw 106 pitches (76 strikes) and allowed the Giants just six singles and a double, walking no one and striking out eight.
Lee joins CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis as the only pitchers since 2000 to throw five shutouts in a single year. If he throws one more, he would become the 13th pitcher since 1981 to have six or more in one season; John Tudor of the Cardinals had the most in a single year since 1981, 10 in the St. Louis NL pennant year of 1985.
The Phillies, who hold the best record in baseball at 72-39, will face the Giants again Friday night in San Francisco. Lee's next start should come up next Tuesday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.