Lee is wild, bats are not in Phillies loss to Cardinals

In a clash of catchers, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina is tagged out by the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz in the fourth inning. Lance Berkman scored ahead of Molina to give the Cards a 2-1 lead.
In a clash of catchers, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina is tagged out by the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz in the fourth inning. Lance Berkman scored ahead of Molina to give the Cards a 2-1 lead. (JEFF ROBERSON / Associated Press)
Posted: May 17, 2011

ST. LOUIS - In the middle of a silent visitors clubhouse at Busch Stadium after a 3-1 Phillies loss to the Cardinals, Rich Dubee and Greg Gross sat at laptops in their shorts watching video and taking notes. Dubee, the pitching coach, replayed each one of Cliff Lee's six walks. Gross, the hitting coach, needed just about the same time to see each of the Phillies' five hits.

The players dressed; the fact that 40 games have yielded a 25-15 record, best in the National League, was of no consolation on Monday night.

There was Lee, visibly upset at home plate umpire Gerry Davis' tight strike zone, which resulted in a career-high six walks.

"I felt like I threw a lot of strikes that were called balls," Lee said.

Adjacent to the room, Charlie Manuel mumbled into his desk, his way of showing dismay for his offense.

"We didn't have too many chances," Manuel said. "We couldn't get nothing going."

In the first 40 games of the 2011 season, his team has scored three or fewer runs in more than half (21). They are 8-13 in those games and 17-2 when they score at least four runs.

In other words, if the Phillies can muster merely a decent offense, this summer will breeze by.

Maybe it will take this nadir to implement change. In three days, the Phillies have mustered six runs on 12 hits on the way to their first three-game losing streak.

Hey, there is improvement. On Saturday, the Phillies had three hits. They increased to four on Sunday before a whopping five on Monday. So just wait until the end of this week.

By then, the Phillies could have a suitable lineup.

A makeshift batting order that was missing Placido Polanco and Shane Victorino had no trouble ensuring that St. Louis could escape its own failures in the batter's box.

But Manuel had little choice to field the lineup he did Monday, with Victorino still nursing a sore hamstring and Polanco requiring a day of rest. (Meanwhile, a team's fan base turns its lonely eyes toward Clearwater, Fla., where Chase Utley has already accumulated 32 minor-league at-bats.)

So Manuel was saddled with Wilson Valdez (.567 OPS) batting second, Raul Ibanez (.636 OPS) batting third, an unproven John Mayberry Jr. fifth, slumping Ben Francisco (.693 OPS) hitting sixth, and utility man Pete Orr (.648 OPS) slotted seventh. That made the odds long for Lee, who was uncharacteristically wild, whether it was the umpire's fault or not.

"Whatever," Lee said. "It is what it is. I'm the pitcher, he's the umpire. It's his job to call balls and strikes, and he felt like they were balls, I guess."

The seeds of inaccuracy were planted early. Lee completed a scoreless first inning having thrown more balls (13) than strikes (12). He fidgeted with the dirt where his right foot landed. He paced around the mound seeking a moment of clarity.

Before Monday, Lee had faced 219 batters and walked seven of them. He walked six of the 29 Cardinals he faced.

Yet, somehow, Lee kept the Phillies in the game. Only two of those walks came around to score, even with the National League's highest-scoring offense handed a bounty of free runners.

The Phillies have won only four of Lee's nine starts. The pitcher has not recorded a victory in 32 days. He has a 3.84 ERA this season, by no means terrible. But he has not finished a season with higher than a 3.22 ERA since 2007. Twenty or so starts remain to correct that.

And there is plenty of time for a stumbling offense to perk up. The lone run Monday was scored only because of fine baserunning by Mayberry and a dunker to shallow left off the bat of Francisco for his first RBI in 17 days.

These Phillies have the same record through 40 games as last season's team did. Those Phillies won 97 games, most in the majors, and they were not without their offensive quandaries.

But 2 hours and 37 minutes of baseball Monday did not call for a lick of optimism.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb


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