For the first time in his career, in the afterglow of eight sterling postseason outings, Lee was knocked around in Game 1 of the World Series on Wednesday.
The precision artist put pitches in the wrong locations, and the Giants dialed an 11-7 triumph at AT&T Park, chasing the great southpaw before he could produce the third out in a rousing fifth inning.
"What I saw from catching him," Bengie Molina said, "is he wasn't hitting his spots very well. There have been only two games I caught him when he was like this.
"I think everybody is surprised -- because everybody thinks he's a machine."
In two starts against the Rays and one against the Yankees on the way to the big stage, Lee yielded two earned runs in 24 innings, striking out 34 hitters while walking one.
In the first loss of his postseason career after seven wins and a no-decision, he surrendered seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and a walk, striking out seven.
Surrounded by an army of reporters at his locker, Lee rejected the notion he was due for a bad one.
"I don't think that way," he said flatly.
What Lee thinks is that he should be in command of all situations by controlling his fastball, cut fastball and offspeed stuff.
"Early in the game, I wasn't locating well," he said. "I was a little erratic trying to find it. I couldn't be consistent.
"It was a little bit of everything. I was up, I was down, I was in, I was out. They were swinging the bat well. That's in a nutshell what happened."
He'd like to take the fifth and throw it in the nearby Pacific Ocean. It was a living nightmare, as five of the seven hitters he faced in that inning scoring. The last two trotted home when Juan Uribe launched a three-run homer against sidearmer Darren O'Day, summoned to get that elusive third out.
"I'm not surprised by anything," Lee said. "You've got to execute pitches -- figure out a way to fight and scrap through it. They kept coming and put together several hits in a row.
"I threw a ton of pitches in the fifth inning. I have to a better job of damage control there. Seven at-bats, six runs ... that's unacceptable."
The Giants' plan of attack was just that -- attack. Falling behind Lee in the count is generally a recipe for disaster.
"We just wanted to stay aggressive against him," Aubrey Huff said. "You don't want to get 0-1, 0-2 off him early, because that's when you get to his good stuff.
"It's what we do all the time -- just swing the bats. This is a pretty free-swinging club, and we went out and swung the bats and stayed aggressive, but aggressive in the zone. We didn't swing at too many bat pitches tonight, and that's the key."
Rangers owner Nolan Ryan alluded to four errors by Texas as evidence that there was more to his club's issues than the ace not delivering as expected.
"We went out and scored seven runs and made four errors," Ryan said. "It's not often you win a ballgame with four errors.
"The expectations are that Cliff will do what he's done every time out. You've got to give him support. You can't make errors the way we did tonight. With him being so consistent, I think everybody has a tendency to think every time he goes out there, it's going to be the same. But everybody's going to have problems sometimes."
Ryan felt Lee's command "wasn't that bad. It just wasn't as sharp as it has been. They got some timely hits and put some real good at-bats on us. This is just Game 1. It's the way we have to look at it."
When he's on his game, Lee lives on the edges of the strike zone. The heart of the plate is no place to go.
"I honestly didn't feel they were that patient," Lee said, his pitch count reaching 104, 69 in the strike zone. "Coming out, I thought they were aggressive. Either way, whether they were aggressive or patient, I have to do a better job of staying out of the middle of the plate and pitching ahead in the count."
There were early signs of trouble. Freddy Sanchez was erased after the first of his three doubles when second baseman Ian Kinsler ran down Buster Posey's popup and doubled Sanchez off second.
A two-out double by Huff in the second was followed by a strikeout of Uribe.
The two-run third began with third baseman Michael Young's error on Edgar Renteria's grounder. After Lincecum popped up a bunt, Lee hit Andres Torres with an 0-2 pitch. Lee hit only one other hitter -- the Angels' Mike Napoli -- all season.
A 1-2 cutter was smacked by Sanchez to left for an RBI double, and Posey singled home Sanchez on an 0-1 changeup to tie it.
After a perfect fourth, Lee watched everything come undone in the fifth.
Torres doubled to left, and Sanchez made it a rare hat trick with his third double to left-center. Posey struck out, but Lee walked Pat Burrell on a full count and watched Cody Ross and Huff bang 1-2 fastballs through the middle.
Out of the dugout came manager Ron Washington, and out of the game bounded Lee.
This was the eighth time in his career that he's allowed seven or more runs in fewer than five innings and the 10th time he's allowed as many as six earned runs in fewer than five innings.
Spanning 227 career outings, it's the 16th time Lee has allowed seven or more runs in a start. He did improve upon one aspect of his record standing in postseason performance -- his seven strikeouts gives him 41 this postseason, which is tied for fifth all time with Mike Mussina's 1997 performance with the Orioles.
"We're used to him dominating and all that, so when he has an off day like today, he probably feels the pain," Molina said. "Everybody makes a big deal. It's sad, but we're human."
Even the great Cliff Lee.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.