Lee and Phillies lose again

Posted: June 30, 2012

MIAMI - Cliff Lee walked off the mound Friday and watched a first-pitch cutter zoom past centerfielder Shane Victorino for a two-run Marlins double. He thought about backing up home plate, but that was silly. He stumbled toward the third-base line with no purpose on a lost night in a lost season.

"I don't have an explanation," Lee said.

He is the highest-paid player on baseball's most underachieving team, and there was a certain symbolism in the latest failure, a 6-2 drubbing by Miami at the Marlins' brand-new nightclub of a ballpark. These Phillies are a season-high 10 games back of first place and a season-worst seven games under .500.

The season is nearly half complete. They are on borrowed time.

There was no one to blame Friday but Lee. He remains winless in 2012, a toxic cocktail of bad luck, no support, and nights like Friday. He lasted merely 42/3 innings and was lashed for six runs on 10 hits by one of the majors' most impotent offenses. It was his shortest start in almost a year.

The damage is mounting. Lee has a 4.13 ERA, his highest this late in a season since 2007, when he finished with a 6.29 mark. He has permitted five earned runs in three straight starts. The last time he managed a longer streak, he was shipped out to Buffalo to pitch triple-A baseball in 2007.

"He looks kind of frustrated to me," manager Charlie Manuel said. "I don't see him as being bad. He's got a lot of determination. He's definitely a competitor and I guarantee he's probably thinking, 'I can't wait to get back out there.' "

No one predicted this malaise that has spread through pitchers once thought invulnerable. They wrote books on the dominance that was 2011 only for 2012 to beget a starting staff with a 5.16 ERA in its last 30 games, dating to May 28. That was when Roy Halladay succumbed to a shoulder injury, and even he was far removed from his typical supremacy.

Irrelevancy felt assured Friday as the final innings slogged to completion.

The Marlins scored once in the first when Lee failed to field a tapper to the mound. It bounced off his glove - "I don't know how I didn't catch that," Lee said - and Jose Reyes scored from third. Lee slapped his left hand into his glove and put his hands on his knees.

His winless streak was a statistical oddity that captured baseball's attention over the last few weeks. Now Lee is nothing more than a casualty of constant losing.

"As far as the wins and losses, that's out of my control," Lee said. "I could do something about not getting through the fifth inning and not giving up [six] runs. That falls solely on me. I can do better than that, no doubt."

Manuel, the man overseeing this disaster, still speaks with optimism. He wanted the Phillies to soar on their recent 10-game homestand. They began it eight games back and finished nine behind.

He sees opportunity with the final three series before the crucial all-star break, when management could decide to pull the plug on competing.

"I know if we play better we'll definitely have a chance," Manuel said.

Lee did not follow Manuel's script. The only indignity he avoided was not having to watch the psychedelic home run sculpture in left-center field ignite. Instead of long balls, the Marlins just mashed them across the outfield.

The lefthander has a 6.12 ERA in his last five starts. The Phillies have lost 10 of the 13 games he has started in 2012.

"We've got to get our rotation straightened out," Manuel said.

It begins with the highest-paid player, who embodies everything gone awry in this Phillies season.

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