It took 13 starts with an unbelievable combination of bad luck and untimely runs to keep Lee winless. But in a July 4 matinee against the Mets at Citi Field, he tossed eight strong innings, striking out nine and scattering seven hits as the Phillies ended their six-game losing streak with a 9-2 victory. And just like that, the zero that sat in Lee's win column for 82 games was gone.
The Phillies did what they've done so rarely this season — come from behind to win a game. And it was the heart of the team that came through. In a span of three pitches in the seventh inning, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz hit home runs to put three runs on the board and give the Phillies the lead they would not relinquish.
Lee's record stands at 1-5.
"It's about time," Utley said of Lee's first win. "Cliff pitched well today."
The Phillies struggled to get anything going offensively before the seventh. Chris Young had limited them to two hits and sent the Phillies down 1-2-3 in four of the first six innings.
In the final three frames, Utley, Ruiz and Wigginton homered, and Jimmy Rollins doubled and scored twice. It was vintage Phillies baseball, the kind that has been missing all season. The pitching was excellent, and the offense battled, getting hot late to put up nine runs in the final three frames.
Ruiz's homer gave the Phillies their first lead in 23 innings.
"He's been doing it all season for us," Lee said. "That was a huge part in the game."
The Phillies still sit in last place, 12 games behind the Washington Nationals in the NL East division, but at this point, a win, especially of this variety, is a big step in the right direction.
The All-Star break, which is four games away, provides hope. Halladay and Ryan Howard, both of whom are coming off injuries, will likely return shortly after the break, and the Phillies will need to play excellent baseball to make things interesting. More important, they need to stay in contention before the July 31 trade deadline to show the front office that they can make a run.
Lee's performance may have kick-started that.
After allowing 20 earned runs in his previous four starts, Lee responded in a big way. He commanded his fastball and got ahead in counts. His only major blemish was a solo home run by Scott Hairston in the fourth. He also allowed three straight singles in the fifth, which produced New York's only other run.
If the 33-year-old can return to the way he pitched at the end of last season — or the way he pitched Wednesday — and the Phillies get a productive Howard and Halladay back, they can still make a run. In his final 10 starts last season, spanning all of August and September, Lee didn't allow more than two earned runs in a start.
"He got a win on July 4," manager Charlie Manuel said. "Today, he was good. The biggest difference was those three runs [in the seventh]."
As Lee walked out of the clubhouse, Jonathan Papelbon spun from his seat in front of his locker.
"Hey," he said to Lee. "It's about time."
Lee smiled and left the clubhouse — this time, finally, as a winning pitcher. n
Contact Chad Graff at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ChadGraff.