Clifton’s legend growing bigger

It’s difficult to criticize Cliff Lee’s season. Philadelphia’s most popular athlete has certainly enjoyed a triumphant return.

It might be nit-picking but his walk total (40) is already more than double (18) from last season.

“I know I’ve walked more guys than last season, but I just think guys have laid off more pitches this year than last year,” Lee said. “Also, what I think have been strikes have sometimes been called balls … but that’s baseball. I have more walks this year, but I also have more strikeouts and I think that goes hand in hand.”

With six more Monday, Lee has 200 strikeouts (204, to be exact) for the first time in his career. And he’s been lights-out in June and August. Lee was 5-0 both months, posting a ridiculous 0.21 ERA in June and 0.45 ERA in August. He’s now 1-0 with no runs allowed in his only September start.

“I’ve had some ups and downs,” Lee said. “I try to ride the ups as long as I can and I try to end the bad streaks as soon as I can. This has been a very enjoyable season.”

The 2011 campaign, which could earn Lee an NL Cy Young to match the AL one he earned back in 2008, has been what the loose ace envisioned when he decided to spurn the mighty Yankees.

“This season is what I expected it to be,” Lee said. “We have pitching, but it’s not just about pitching with this team. It’s solid throughout. This is a better team than it was in 2009, so I’m not surprised when it comes to our record or what we’ve accomplished. We’re that good and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

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