Sheldon Ocker

CLEVELAND: Cliff Lee will make the first start of his career against the Indians tonight at Progressive Field.

Lee, now in his second stint with the Phillies, has the distinction of being the second Cy Young Award winner to be traded away from Cleveland in consecutive seasons, and as such he and CC Sabathia, the first Cy guy to go, came to represent the deteriorating condition of a franchise that had been the scourge of the ’90s.

Not that Lee is concerned with such negative iconic status; he might not even be aware of his place in Tribe history.

The Indians put him on a path to stardom at a time when his career could have gone way up or way down. In 2007, Lee was in his sixth season with the Tribe. Some had been notable, others not so much, but 2007 turned into a disaster.

By mid-July Lee had a dismal 5-8 record and 6.29 ERA, and then-General Manager Mark Shapiro optioned him to Triple-A.

Lee didn’t understand the move, saying, “How can they send a guy with a multiyear contract to the minors?”

Of course, his question missed the point, but Lee’s ego got in the way, which is one reason why he was demoted. As it turned out, going to the minors and being left off the postseason roster was the kind of shock treatment that might have saved his career.

“That was not a good year, and the next year was obviously the best year I ever had,” Lee said Tuesday. “There was a pretty drastic difference and they both happened here.”

Lee won the Cy Young Award in 2008 with a 22-3 record and 2.54 ERA.

“Those were definitely the lowest and highest points in my career,” he said. “I went from really bad to really good that quick. It puts things in perspective for you, and lets you know that you can rebound from a bad outing, a bad month or a bad year.”

Lee hasn’t forgotten being left off the postseason roster six years ago.

“I would have liked to get one shot at the Red Sox,” he said. “I’m not saying I would have won, but in ’07 that provided some motivation for me, motivation to turn it around.”

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at Read the Indians blog at