Cliff Lee remains winless at home as Phillies lose 4-1 to Cardinals

Cliff Lee allowed four runs in seven innings. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Lee allowed four runs in seven innings. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 12, 2012

A Cliff Lee fastball hung in the thick Philadelphia air Saturday night when Domonic Brown took a feeble leap. He crashed into the Milwaukee-Houston portion of the out-of-town scoreboard and did not even bother to look up.

It landed in the left hand of a fan seated in the first row of Section 104. The owner of the latest souvenir surrendered by a Phillies pitcher pointed skyward with his right hand.

His fellow fans eventually coerced him to throw the ball back, and when it landed on the damp grass at Citizens Bank Park, Phillies fans had a reason to cheer during a 4-1 loss to St. Louis. It was a scene replayed so often in 2012.

This time, it was a Matt Holliday three-run blast in the sixth inning that clinched defeat. It was the eighth homer hit off Lee in the sixth inning or later. Five of them have created a Phillies deficit or tied the game.

"The home runs come," manager Charlie Manuel said, "when you're aggressive and you throw a lot of fastballs."

Lee is not alone. Phillies pitchers have fallen victim to the long ball habitually during a fruitless 2012. Only two National League staffs have allowed more home runs - Colorado's, which pitches half of its games while elevated a mile high, and Houston's, which is on pace for 53 wins.

Holliday's home run was the 129th against a Phillies pitcher. In 2011, the Phils allowed 120, second-fewest in all of baseball. The starting pitchers are to blame.

Last year, Phillies starters permitted 82 home runs. That number has climbed to 94 with 49 games remaining in 2012. (Granted, 22 of them were bashed off the now-departed Joe Blanton.)

Lee has been tagged for a home run in 12 of his 20 starts this season. He has not allowed home runs at this rate since before he was a Cy Young Award-caliber pitcher. Hitters homered at a rate of 0.6 per nine innings against Lee during the previous four seasons combined. It has skyrocketed to 1.2 per nine innings in 2012.

He surpassed his 2011 home run total this season in nearly 100 fewer innings.

It's a curious case, because Lee's other statistics indicate success. He has equaled his career hits-per-nine-innings rate and is striking out more while walking fewer batters per nine.

Is he too aggressive in the strike zone?

"If he wins the game, nobody says anything about it," Manuel said. "You like it. If he gets hit, that's when you talk about it. You say he throws too many strikes. But that's the kind of pitcher he is when he pitches real good. He is a tempo and rhythm pitcher. He is aggressive and does not take a lot of time."

The lapses in control have been more costly. Lee remained winless for the season at Citizens Bank. He last tasted victory at home on Sept. 5, 2011. A large reason, of course, is the Phillies have failed to support him. They have scored 52 runs in Lee's 20 starts while he is in the game. That is sixth-lowest among all starters in baseball.

Lee pitched five scoreless innings, while navigating some hard-hit balls, until the fateful sixth. Jon Jay led off with an infield single. Allen Craig doubled off the wall beyond a jumping Brown. That enabled Holliday to change the game with one swing at a fat 94-m.p.h. fastball.

"He pitched good enough to win the game," Manuel said, "if we scored him some runs."


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

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