Lee was picked by Phillies manager Charlie Manuel to start Game 1 of the NL division series against Colorado. He got the nod over Cole Hamels, who was MVP of the World Series and NLCS last year.
"It's an honor," Lee said. "I don't think there's any more importance in Game 1 versus Game 2. I knew I was going to pitch one of the games, so for me it really didn't matter. They're equally important."
Hamels will start Game 2. If the series goes five games, Manuel will have his choice between the two left-handers.
The decision wasn't a surprise. Lee pitched against Houston last Thursday and will take the mound on five days' rest. Hamels would've had to come back on three days' rest after tossing 47 pitches in three innings against Florida on Saturday.
"We've got two top-notch pitchers going the first two games of this series," Manuel said.
Joe Blanton, J.A. Happ or Pedro Martinez could take the mound in Game 3. Blanton and Happ will be available to help an injury-depleted bullpen in the first two games.
Lee was 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts after the Phillies acquired the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner from Cleveland on July 29. However, he was shaky after an excellent start in Philadelphia. Lee was 2-4 with a 6.13 ERA in his last seven starts after going 5-0 with a 0.68 ERA in his first five. Overall, Lee was 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA in a career-high 231 innings this season.
"He's a tempo pitcher," Manuel said. "When he's really going good, he gets the ball and throws it. He's aggressive. His command is a big part of everything he does. When he's been real good, he throws all three of his pitches and uses both sides of the plate."
Hamels struggled all year, hardly pitching like the dominant ace who went 4-0 last October. Hamels was 10-11 with a 4.32 ERA this season.
"When it really got down to it, did we want to bring him back on short rest or keep him on his routine?" Manuel said. "I think he's one of the top pitchers in baseball. Cole Hamels can pitch any game for me that he wants. If it gets down to five games, we have a pretty good decision between him and Lee."
Lee was 18-5 with the Indians in 2005 and won 14 games a year later. But 2007 was a total disaster.
First, he got hurt. Then, he was demoted to the minors. When he returned, he was relegated to a relief role. Lee finished 5-8 with a 6.29 ERA and the Indians didn't put him on the postseason roster.
"That's the first thing I thought of when I got traded was it's an opportunity to get back to the postseason and contribute," Lee said. "Last time I had to be a backup and sit there and watch other guys play. It was fun to be a part of it, but it was also kind of bittersweet in the fact that I didn't get to participate. This is my next chance to get that opportunity, and I'm looking forward to it. I want to try to give the team a win."
Phillies NLDS roster:
Catchers (2): Paul Bako and Carlos Ruiz
Infielders (6): Miguel Cairo, Greg Dobbs, Pedro Feliz, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley
Outfielders (5): Ben Francisco, Raul Ibanez, Matt Stairs, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth
Pitchers (12): left-handers Antonio Bastardo, Scott Eyre, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ and Cliff Lee and right-handers Joe Blanton, Chad Durbin, Kyle Kendrick, Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, Pedro Martinez and Brett Myers