Cardinals maul Lee; even series, 1-1

The Phils' Shane Victorino can't catch up with Allen Craig's triple in the seventh. Craig later scored to put the Cardinals in front, 5-4.
The Phils' Shane Victorino can't catch up with Allen Craig's triple in the seventh. Craig later scored to put the Cardinals in front, 5-4. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 03, 2011

The largest crowd in this ballpark's history came to idolize the pitcher who could do no wrong. This was Cliff Lee's time, the reason he spurned every other city to call Philadelphia home again. Domination in the regular season was assumed. But October, that's when Lee is a baseball deity.

There were no outs in the seventh inning Sunday when Charlie Manuel stepped onto the Citizens Bank Park dirt and tossed his gum. That's his tell, his way of showing disgust for being forced to remove one of his ace starting pitchers.

The 46,575 fans sat in near silence only beginning to internalize the disappointment that was a 5-4 Phillies loss to St. Louis in Game 2 of the National League division series.

They still cheered when Lee stormed into the dugout leaving a deficit behind him. But this best-of-five series is tied going to St. Louis. Lee allowed five runs on a season-high 12 hits and surrendered what was a four-run lead.

The narrative was challenged by the persistent Cardinals. An early lead with an ace on the mound was expected to equate victory for the Phillies. But St. Louis tied it in the sixth and pulled ahead in the seventh, all against Lee.

Lee's first pitch of the seventh inning was his 102d of the night. Allen Craig crushed No. 106 to the deepest part of the ballpark and off of Shane Victorino's outstretched glove. Craig was on third with a leadoff triple, but Lee remained. His first pitch to Albert Pujols was a cutter ripped over Jimmy Rollins' glove to score the go-ahead run.

Three pitches later, when Lance Berkman dunked a single into right field, Manuel emerged and ultimately raised his right arm for relief. Lee won this city's heart with his October dominance in 2009, but he has allowed 15 runs in his last 17 2/3 postseason innings.

His offense offered little support after the second inning. Fifteen Phillies were retired in a row by Cardinals pitching until Jimmy Rollins singled with two outs in the seventh. He was promptly picked off first base by Marc Rzepcynski, one of six St. Louis relievers to quiet an offense that a day earlier smacked the very same bullpen.

Even at the start of Game 2, the Phillies looked in control.

Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter had made 338 starts in the majors, and before Sunday none were on short rest. By the third inning, he wasn't throwing warm-up pitches to save his arm. The Phillies forced Carpenter to throw 30 pitches in a three-run first inning. His control, especially against lefties, was erratic at best.

Making matters worse, Cards manager Tony La Russa believed, was Jerry Meals' strike zone. When La Russa trotted to the mound in the second inning, he waited for the home plate umpire to interrupt the conference. That's when the Cardinals manager voiced his opinion. Two innings later, La Russa blasted Meals during a mid-game TV interview.

Whatever the case, the Phillies battered Carpenter. He had allowed five runs in his final 40 regular-season innings. The Phillies scored four times in the first two innings. Carpenter was finished after three.

And with Lee on the mound, happiness was almost guaranteed. He toyed with St. Louis in the early innings; allowing leadoff extra-base hits only to strand the runners. He ran back and forth from the mound, and the fans waved their towels and shouted his name.

Then the Cardinals rallied in the fourth and could have tied the game if it weren't for a fine play by Carlos Ruiz, who sustained a jarring hit from Jon Jay but gloved the ball for the third out. Lee punched Ruiz's chest protector. The lead was tenuous.

Only later would it dissolve. When it ended, drenched Phillies fans were left with doubt, wondering how Lee turned human on the glorious stage they built for him.


Tale of Two Cliffs

The first eight games of Cliff Lee's postseason career, with the Phillies in 2009 and through the American League playoffs with the Texas Rangers last season, were stellar. In the three playoff games he's started since the beginning of last year's World Series, however, it's been a different story.

   W-L   IP   H   BB   HR    K    ERA   

First eight    7-0   641/3   40   7   1   67   1.26   

Last three    0-3   172/3   26   3   1   22   7.13   


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com or @magelb on Twitter.

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