Phillies fail Lee again, lose to L.A.

Posted: June 05, 2012

On an almost daily basis, Pete Orr will sit in front of Hunter Pence's locker and play a game of chess with the outfielder. A few players sometimes will gather to watch, but usually the two play undisturbed as the rest of the Phillies clubhouse prepares for baseball.

But on Monday, Cliff Lee challenged Orr after his regular match with Pence. The two moved the table to the center of the room and played. "He always kills me," Orr said.

A few minutes later, Orr spiked an empty paper cup. Victory came quickly for Lee, meaning he had won a game of chess in 2012 before winning a game of baseball.

He remained winless 24 hours later because of a brutal 2-1 loss Tuesday night to the Los Angeles Dodgers that dropped the Phillies below .500 for the first time since May 23. Lee had dazzled all night until the eighth inning, when he wavered and finally broke on the 122d pitch thrown by his left arm.

The ball and Juan Pierre thudded against the left-field wall. It was a two-run double by Elian Herrera, and a tenuous lead was a permanent deficit. Lee swung his arms in disgust. Manager Charlie Manuel popped from the dugout, and Lee kicked the mound dirt. He surrendered the ball and sprinted into the dugout, where there was no solace but empty pats of condolence from teammates.

Once again, there was no support. The Phillies have scored 16 runs with Lee in the game during his nine starts. He remains winless despite a 2.69 ERA and 6.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Entering Tuesday, Lee's 3.00 ERA was the lowest ERA for any Phillies pitcher without a win in his first eight starts since the National League began keeping track of earned runs in 1912.

If anything, his lack of wins has educated a fan base on the flaws of the win statistic. Lee pitched well enough to win in at least six of his first eight starts. (The Phillies won three of them.) A lack of run support, a bad bullpen, or bad luck prevented Lee from personally notching a win.

He was a strikeout machine until the eighth inning Tuesday, and perhaps that is what doomed him. The only question was how deep Lee could go because of the swelling strikeout total. At one point, he fanned five consecutive Dodgers and seven of nine. In all, he struck out 12 for his 20th career double-digit strikeout game.

But Los Angeles sprayed four hits in the eighth inning. The damage was limited only because of two Dodgers outs on the bases. So Lee was one strike away from escaping before the ill-fated 2-2 pitch to Herrera.

Incredibly, he threw 92 strikes and still lost. The last pitcher to throw at least 92 strikes and lose a game was Aaron Harang in 2007, according to baseball-reference.com. Lee's drought continues to defy logic.

His team's offense does not. Its lack of talent has been frequently exposed as the Phillies hover around .500. Often, Manuel has lamented his team's being one or two hits away from winning. This was another example.

The lone run of support came in the first inning from a situation that had bred so much frustration this season. Hunter Pence batted with a runner on third base and fewer than two outs after Jimmy Rollins doubled and scampered to third on a Juan Pierre fly-out.

Before Tuesday, Pence had hit 17 times in those situations and the runner had scored just five times for a 29 percent success rate. The major-league average was 51 percent entering Tuesday.

Pence promptly singled through the hole at shortstop for a run-scoring hit. The Phillies put one more runner on second base in the subsequent eight innings.

Once Freddy Galvis struck out to end it, the fans didn't even boo. It was time to wonder what Lee had done to deserve such a cruel outcome yet again.


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

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