CLEVELAND -- Cliff Lee focused more on protecting a lead than throwing a no-hitter.
Lee (4-6) threw seven innings of no-hit ball before settling for a three-hitter to give the Cleveland Indians a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday night.
"Whatever, man," Lee said. "They didn't score any runs, that's the ultimate goal.
"I knew I had a no-hitter, but I wasn't real excited or anything. I didn't want to get caught up in it. When we got the win, then I was excited."
Lee allowed only two first-inning walks until Yadier Molina opened the eighth with an opposite-field drive down the right-field line that hit off the wall for a double.
The left-hander walked around the mound and took a deep breath after seeing the ball go over the head of right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
"I was hoping he would get it," Lee said. "It was nice to get that close to a no-hitter. Maybe I'll get another chance down the road.
"Right then, though, I had to focus. I give up another hit and all of a sudden the tying run is at the plate."
Choo said he was playing shallower than usual because Molina had lined a couple of base hits in front of outfielders earlier in the three-game series.
"Maybe I was too shallow," Choo said. "But with Lee having a no-hitter, I didn't want one to fall in."
Molina's hit broke a string of 20 in a row set down by the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, who was bidding for the first no-hitter at Progressive Field and first by a Cleveland pitcher since Len Barker's perfect game against Toronto on May 15, 1981.
Mark DeRosa hit a two-run homer in the first inning and Kelly Shoppach a solo shot in the fifth off Chris Carpenter (4-1), who won the NL Cy Young in 2005.
"De-Ro going deep against a great pitcher like Carpenter was huge," Lee said. "I figured it was going to be a low-scoring game. Carpenter pitched great."
Lee improved to 12-2 in interleague games -- the best winning percentage of any pitcher with at least 12 decisions. Cleveland is 15-5 overall in Lee's starts against the NL.
The left-hander was trying to become the first reigning Cy Young winner to throw a no-hitter since St. Louis' Bob Gibson beat Pittsburgh 11-0 on Aug. 14, 1971.
After walking Brendan Ryan to open the game and issuing a one-out walk to Albert Pujols, the left-hander settled into a groove. He got out of that early jam by getting Ryan Ludwick on a fly ball to the warning track in right and retiring Nick Stavinoha on a grounder to third.
"I thought Ludwick's ball was gone," Lee said. "If so, we're playing catch-up right away.
"I could have given up maybe eight or nine hits, but a lot of balls were right at fielders and they made good plays."
Lee retired the side on four pitches in the second.
"It felt like every pitch he threw was a strike," said Molina, adding that he thought his double was off a changeup.
After making 21 pitches in the first, Lee threw only 50 pitches -- 41 for strikes -- until the eighth.
"I started locating my fastball on both sides of the plate, but my changeup was key," Lee said. "I had a good change and got some outs with it."
Before Molina's drive, the closest the Cardinals came to a hit was with two outs in the seventh. Stavinoha topped a slow roller toward third that Jhonny Peralta charged. Peralta's throw was scooped out of the dirt by first baseman Victor Martinez as the crowd of 23,644 roared.
Ryan singled to open the ninth and took second on a two-out line single to left by Ludwick. Lee then got Stavinoha to fly out to right on the first pitch to end it. He struck out six in his third career shutout, which took 1 hour, 58 minutes.
DeRosa lined an 0-1 pitch from Carpenter into the left-field seats for a 2-0 lead in the first. Jamey Carroll drew a leadoff walk and scored on DeRosa's 11th homer.
"Anytime you walk the leadoff hitter, there's a good chance of getting yourself in trouble," Carpenter said.
"When a guy is up there doing what he's doing, you know you're part of a special game. Unfortunately, it was on the wrong side. He worked us over pretty well tonight."
Shoppach hit a 1-2 pitch over the wall in left-center for his fifth homer in the fifth.
Pujols came in as the all-time leader in interleague batting average at .355, but went 0 for 3 with a walk against Lee.