Cliff Lee done in again by Phillies' poor offense

The Dodgers' Dee Gordon celebrates with Juan Rivera after scoring in the eighth inning. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
The Dodgers' Dee Gordon celebrates with Juan Rivera after scoring in the eighth inning. YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 07, 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 teammates 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.

That remained the same 24 hours later because of a brutal, 2-1 Phillies loss Tuesday night to the Los Angeles Dodgers that dropped the Phillies to 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.

"He had a beautiful game going," manager Charlie Manuel said wistfully.

The ball off the bat of Elian Herrera, and Juan Pierre, thudded against the left-field wall. Pierre later said he should have caught the ball. "You can hang this one on me," he said.

It was a two-run double and a tenuous lead was a permanent deficit. Lee swung his arms in disgust. 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.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Lee said. "It's something that's out of my control. All I can do is go out there, make pitches, and put up as many zeroes as I can."

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 2.92 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 straight 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 most nights. This was another example.

The lone run of support was scored in the first inning when Hunter Pence singled to left, driving in Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies put one more runner on second base in the subsequent eight innings, most against Chad Billingsley.

"I thought we were going to score some runs off him," Manuel said. "I thought we were going to hit him. We didn't hit him at all."

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 on Twitter @magelb.


 

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