NEW YORK — Joe Girardi could take away one comforting thought after watching Cliff Lee shut down the New York Yankees.
“He can't pitch every day,” the Yankees manager said.
Lee tickled his teammates with a ho-hum catch, made a behind-the-back snag seem routine and bamboozled the New York hitters the whole way, pitching the Philadelphia Phillies to a 6-1 win Wednesday night in the World Series opener.
“It's been a long time since I've been nervous playing this game,” Lee said. “I try not to leave anything to chance.”
Lee could have been clowning around with his kids, it looked so easy. He outdueled CC Sabathia and Chase Utley homered twice as the defending champion Phillies kept rolling through October.
The Phils shut down Alex Rodriguez & Co. in the first Series game at the new billion-dollar ballpark. Trying to become the first NL team to repeat since Cincinnati in 1975-76, the Phils' current 17-4 postseason run is the best in league history.
Big Red Machine, meet the New Red Machine.
“We have confidence. We know we have a good team,” Utley said.
Game 2 is Thursday night, with wily Pedro Martinez pitching for the Phillies against jumpy A.J. Burnett.
Lee stopped the Yankees with a spiked curveball, deceptive changeup and his usual pinpoint fastball, pitching a six-hitter while striking out 10 without a walk. He became the first since Don Newcombe in 1949 to fan double digits with no walks in a Series game.
The lefty blanked the Yankees until a run scored on shortstop Jimmy Rollins' throwing error in the ninth inning. Lee improved to 3-0 with an 0.54 ERA this postseason.
He really seemed to enjoy himself, too.
“Game time is the time to go out there and have fun and let your skills take over. It's kind of weird. Boils down to confidence and trusting your teammates,” he said.
If Lee felt any anxiety in his Series debut, facing the team that led the majors in wins, homers and runs, it didn't show. And if the Phillies were supposed to be intimidated by the pictures of Babe Ruth and all the Yankees greats on the giant videoboard, it didn't happen.
Pitching in short sleeves on a blustery evening, Lee worked a wad of gum while he worked his spell over the Yanks.
Lee did a lot of the job himself. When Johnny Damon hit a little popup to the mound, Lee merely stuck out his glove hand to the side and caught the ball as if it were an apple falling from a tree.
“You know, it was pretty cool,” Lee said. “It was 15 feet in the air. Pretty simple catch. It came right to me.”
That play left the Phillies laughing. Later, he made a nifty, behind-the-back stop on Robinson Cano's one-hopper. He threw the ball to first and shrugged. Easy.
That play stumped Ryan Howard.
“I was like ... wow. Am I missing something? It was so nonchalant, so casual,” the Phillies first baseman said.
ELISE AMENDOLA / AP Enlarge
Said Lee: “I try not to go over the edge and be cocky.”
Howard reprised his NL championship series MVP performance, doubling twice and driving in the final run. Barely looking like the 2-to-1 underdogs they are, the Phillies were in such control that many fans left before the final out.
Lee beat his good friend and former Cy Young teammate Sabathia in the first game at this ballpark back in April, and got this chance after the Phillies traded four minor leaguers to Cleveland in July to get him.
Rodriguez went hitless and struck out three times in his Series debut.
“I did keep it simple today. He kept it even more simple,” Rodriguez said. “He threw the ball well. When a guy comes out like that, you tip your cap and move on. He made some pretty good pitches.”
Playing in their 40th World Series, and first in six years, the Yankees went down quickly.
“As the game went on, it got quieter,” Utley said.
Utley's solo home runs in the third and sixth innings gave Lee all the support he needed. Raul Ibanez hit a two-run single in the eighth and Shane Victorino added an RBI single in the ninth.
The Phillies' win may have been a bit overdue — in their only other October meeting, the Whiz Kids from Philadelphia got swept by the Yankees in the 1950 World Series and totaled just five runs.
Even though he's an All-Star, Utley was an unlikely candidate to rock Sabathia, the MVP of the ALCS. Utley was 0 for 7 with five strikeouts against the big lefty going into the game.
Utley won a nine-pitch duel with Sabathia in the third, pulling a 95 mph fastball barely over the right-field wall. The shot was the first by a left-hander allowed by Sabathia at home this year.
Utley struck again in the sixth, sending another 95 mph heater deep into the right-center field bleachers.
First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden were among the crowd of 50,207, as were a few specks of fans dressed in Phillies red. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner watched from an upstairs box — he has yet to see his team win in the palace he built.
After a rocky postseason, umpires faced just one tricky play and called it correctly. They huddled after Rollins trapped a popup and threw to first, and ruled it a double play.
Lee also got it right.
“He was locked in tonight. Nothing he did surprised me,” Phillies closer Brad Lidge said.