One devious curve at a time, Cliff Lee has become a strikeout specialist.
Lee hit double-digit strikeouts for the sixth time this season, fanning 10 in seven shutout innings and leading the Philadelphia Phillies to a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.
Lee (5-5) bounced back from one of his worst starts of the season with one of his best. He allowed seven hits and walked only one, while continuing to strike out batters at a career-best rate. He has 15 career games with double-digit strikeouts — six this season — and leads the National League with 100. His best is 185 last season.
His explanation for all the K's?
"Swinging and missing more," he said. "I'm not trying to strike guys out at all. I'm trying to get them out as quick as possible. For whatever reason, it's kind of gone that way."
Lee even shook off a liner to the knee in the seventh. He was fine and so were the Phillies in their first game back after a disappointing 4-5 road trip.
He allowed seven runs and walked three in 5 1-3 innings the last time out, a loss against Washington. He briefly pitched as if more of the same was on the way when he allowed consecutive singles to open the game.
Lee got Marcus Thames to hit into a double play and struck out Thames with two runners on to end the fifth that quashed the Dodgers' only two scoring threats. By the fourth, Lee found his command, his curve and his way back to a more typical outing.
"It's a big pitch for me," Lee said. "I had a good feel for it and I was able to throw it for strikes when I needed to. I'm going to continue to work on it and make it a part of my game."
Lee didn't have much support, but he had just enough for the win. His six double-digit strikeout games are the most for a Phillies pitcher since Curt Schilling had 15 in 1998.
He frustrated Casey Blake to the point that the Dodgers first baseman was tossed in the sixth after arguing a called strike three. On a which-way-did-it-go curve, of course. It was the second time Blake struck out.
Relying on his curve, Lee threw 59 strikes out of 88 pitches. Lee's lone walk gave him 20 on the season — two more than his total for all of 2010 combined with Seattle and Texas.
Jerry Sands knocked one off Lee's left knee in the seventh. He immediately brushed off the Phillies trainers and stayed in the game to a huge ovation from the second-largest regular-season crowd (45,777) in Citizens Bank Park history.
Antonio Bastardo tossed a scoreless eighth. Ryan Madson allowed Andre Ethier's RBI groundout in the ninth before finishing for his 13th save.
"These are the kind of games we play," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "We've got to find a way to break though."
The Phillies did when they scored two runs in the third off Ted Lilly (4-5). Wilson Valdez doubled to lead off the inning and scored on Placido Polanco's single. Ryan Howard ripped an RBI single to right later in the inning for a 2-0 lead.
Lilly struck out four and allowed five hits in six innings.
"These are the kind of games you want to win and I didn't get it done," Lilly said.
Carlos Ruiz's RBI double off the left field wall against Mike MacDougal in the eighth made it 3-0.
The Phillies played again without shortstop Jimmy Rollins, out with a bruised right knee. Rollins, who had an MRI earlier in the day, has soreness and swelling and should miss another game or two.
He fouled a ball off his right knee against Pittsburgh on Saturday and was taken out of the game by the bottom of the third.
The Phillies hoped having injured stars return would let their lineup operate at full power. Instead, they're still struggling to score and need all the shutout innings they can get from their rotation.
"I feel like it's going to come around," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "I'm waiting though."
NOTES: Former major leaguer Tom Gordon was at the game to support his son, Dodgers shortstop Dee Gordon. Gordon, a speedy prospect, had his contract purchased Monday. He made his major league debut as a pinch runner and scored in the ninth. ... The Dodgers also activated Thames, RHP Blake Hawksworth and INF Juan Uribe off the 15-day disabled list. Jay Gibbons and Juan Castro were designated for assignment. The Dodgers also optioned Ivan De Jesus and John Ely to Triple-A Albuquerque. ... Phillies RHP Brad Lidge felt discomfort in his right elbow during a bullpen session Monday morning. Lidge will return to Philadelphia from Lidge was in Clearwater, Fla., to meet with team doctor Michael Ciccotti on Tuesday. Lidge has been sidelined all season because of shoulder issues. ... The Phillies selected high school OF Larry Greene with the 39th pick in the draft.