Lee delivers as Phillies' postseason ace

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Yes, the Phillies were able to win the World Series in 2008 without Lee on the mound.

Now try to imagine whether the Phillies would be in position to repeat without him.

Lee has morphed into Philadelphia's postseason ace in the cold this October, shutting down the Rockies and Dodgers with ease and coolly working his way onto the list of October's great postseason pitching performances.

The numbers are almost unreal: 2-0 with a 0.74 ERA in three postseason starts. The lefty has one complete game and struck out 20 in 24 1-3 innings. The Phillies clinched the NLDS the lone game he took a no-decision.

"I always had confidence in myself and felt like I could pitch in a big game," Lee said. "But you never know until you get the opportunity."

The reigning AL Cy Young winner's next start will either come against Los Angeles in the NL championship series, or the World Series. The Phillies held a 2-1 edge over the Dodgers going into Monday night's Game 4 of the NLCS.

Lee's numbers only tell part of the story. His command on the mound makes the rest of the Phillies feel as if they're unbeatable.

Lee has settled a precarious rotation entering October and solidified himself as Philadelphia's true ace, a year after teammate Cole Hamels was MVP of the World Series and NLCS.

"He takes the game kind of where he wants it," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.

He has been ubelievab-lee outstanding.

Lee's latest gem came against the Dodgers in Game 3 on a brisk Sunday night. He tied a Phillies postseason record for strikeouts in a game with 10 and became the first pitcher to throw at least seven innings in each of his first three playoff starts since Mark Buehrle of the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Working quickly, Lee pitched eight shutout innings and was set to go out for the ninth until he hit a single in the eighth and scored on Shane Victorino's three-run homer. All that time on the bases was enough for Manuel to yank him and give him some extra rest.

The Dodgers must have wished Lee was legging out triples in the early innings.

"He was just being aggressive and staying away from the middle of the plate," Dodgers catcher Russell Martin said. "When you do that, you're going to have a good night."

Lee has had many good nights for the Phillies since they traded four minor leaguers to Cleveland to get him on July 29.

He was an instant hit with fans and his new teammates when he tossed a complete game in his first outing for the Phillies and started 5-0, bolstering their bid for a third straight NL East title.

Lee slumped toward the end of the year and finished 7-4 with a 3.39 ERA in 12 starts for the Phillies. He was 14-13 with a 3.22 ERA overall.

When Manuel needed a Game 1 starter in the NL division series against Colorado, he went with Lee instead of Hamels.

Hamels pitched in October last year much like Lee is dominating this postseason, going 4-0. But Hamels' erratic regular season has carried over into playoffs, putting even more pressure on Lee to deliver big performances in big games.

"That's huge," first baseman Ryan Howard said. "When he takes the mound, you can see it in his presence. He goes out there, he shuts the other team down, gives us opportunities to go out there and just put runs on the board."

He may be Philadelphia's No. 1 option now, but Lee nearly didn't find his way to Philadelphia. The Phillies actively pursued Toronto ace Roy Halladay at the trade deadline and for days it seemed he was headed this way. When trade talks broke down - Toronto wanted Phillies rookie starter J.A. Happ - Philly's pursuit of Lee picked up.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game right now," Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth said before Game 4. "His attitude and his overall presence has been a great addition to the clubhouse."

Lee was left off Cleveland's postseason roster in 2007 because of injuries and a poor season.

He wasn't anywhere near Philadelphia last October.

This time, Lee hopes his postseason funs with a World Series ring.

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