ATLANTA (AP) — A disappointing end to his 2013 season left Cliff Lee contemplating his future away from baseball — perhaps as soon as his current contract expires.
Lee dominated the Braves before giving up Chris Johnson’s homer to lead off the eighth, leaving the Philadelphia Phillies with a 1-0 loss to Atlanta on Friday night.
Kris Medlen and Craig Kimbrel combined on a two-hitter for Atlanta.
The Phillies, who have lost seven of eight, are fourth in the NL East, 23 games behind the Braves. The plummet toward the bottom of the division has Lee wondering if he’ll ever realize his goal of returning to the World Series with the Phillies.
“Maybe a little bit,” Lee said. “I am getting up there in age. I’m 35 years old. When this contract’s over, I plan on going home. I’m running out of opportunities but all I can control is what I can control. I’m going to do everything I can to help us win. That’s all I know to do.”
Lee is signed through 2015 with a vesting option for 2016.
Asked if plans on pitching beyond 2016, Lee said “Right now I don’t, but there’s a lot of things that can happen between now and then. I just know that my kids are 12 and 10 now and I’ve missed basically the first half of their lives.
“I’m financially able to shut it now. That’s how I feel now. But when that time comes, I might look at it differently. I don’t know. ... I want to finish being good. I don’t want to finish struggling. I want to finish strong and take it to the house.”
Johnson hit a 0-2 slider for the homer to left field. The homer, Johnson’s 12th, snapped a streak of 16 consecutive batters retired by Lee, who allowed only three hits with no walks and 13 strikeouts in eight innings.
“Cliff was outstanding,” Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. “Medlen was equally good.”
Lee (14-8) completed a strong September finish despite the loss. He was 3-2 in five starts in which he had 54 strikeouts with only one walk.
Johnson’s homer spoiled Lee’s night.
“It basically came down to one pitch: 0-2 to Chris Johnson,” Lee said. “I felt like I made a good pitch, slider down and in. I don’t normally throw sliders to right-handers; I might have done that three times all year. Maybe four or five at the most. But I threw him one earlier today that he pulled way foul and I was trying to bury that one down and in. It was down and in. I think it was a ball, even. He put a good swing on it, hit a home run and that’s the game.
“It’s frustrating but you’ve got to give credit to Medlen. He shut us down.”
Medlen (15-12) strengthened his case to be the Braves’ Game 1 starter in the NL division series next week. He allowed two hits with two walks and seven strikeouts, and he allowed no hits for 5 2-3 innings. He will carry a streak of five straight winning decisions into the postseason.
“I had to get ready for the big stage,” Medlen said.
Medlen said the win was especially meaningful because of his respect for Lee and his history of struggles against the Phillies. He was 3-2 with a 5.17 ERA in 17 career games, including six starts, against the Phillies.
Medlen said the Phillies “absolutely owned me.”
“They’re just a team I’ve had so much trouble against,” he said. “For me to have some success against them for even one game felt pretty awesome and I just want to take it to the playoffs.”
Kimbrel pitched a perfect ninth for his 50th save.
The Phillies didn’t have a hit through 5 2-3 innings before Cesar Hernandez beat out a grounder to third base for an infield hit. Hernandez was thrown out by Evan Gattis trying to steal second base. Chase Utley, who had Philadelphia’s second hit on a seventh-inning single, was thrown out on a double-play grounder by Carlos Ruiz, leaving Medlen as having faced only one batter above the minimum.
Medlen walked Ruiz to lead off the second before Domonic Brown hit into a double play.
Lee struck out the side in the fourth and fifth innings as part of a stretch in which he retired 16 consecutive batters.
NOTES: The game lasted 2 hours, 7 minutes. ... Lee set his career high with 16 strikeouts in a 5-0 loss to the Braves on May 6, 2011. ... Braves C Brian McCann, who left Thursday night’s game against the Phillies with an adductor strain, was held out and is not expected to start in the final two regular season games. Gonzalez said McCann is expected to be ready for the postseason. ... Sandberg said RHP Ethan Martin “most likely” will start on Saturday against Braves LHP Mike Minor.