Lee and Phillies fold in loss to Padres

Cliff Lee delivers a pitch in the first inning of the Phillies' game against the Padres at San Diego's Petco Park. Lee was going for his 10th win of the season.
Cliff Lee delivers a pitch in the first inning of the Phillies' game against the Padres at San Diego's Petco Park. Lee was going for his 10th win of the season. (DENIS POROY / Getty Images)
Posted: June 26, 2013

SAN DIEGO - An ear infection spread pain through Charlie Manuel's sinuses, a pain that throbbed from a five-hour flight across the country. The 69-year-old manager clutched a bottle of antibiotics Monday after his Phillies lost, 4-3. He was exasperated.

"There are some options there," Manuel said. "Evidently, I didn't choose the right one."

He rubbed his left hand over his face. "Tough," he said. He eyed two unused daytime cold medicine pills. "We're supposed to win the game," he said. He stood up and shed his red jacket. "I can't help it now," he said.

This team and its manager have endured backbreaking defeats in 77 games; a chaotic final two innings at Petco Park could stand atop the rest. Cliff Lee threw eight shutout innings. He was permitted to start the ninth despite having thrown 109 pitches with closer Jonathan Papelbon ready for deployment. Manuel stuck with Lee, a decision that would be second guessed at home the next morning.

Lee threw three pitches and departed with runners on second and third. Papelbon blew his fourth save in eight days. The game extended to the 10th, when Justin De Fratus loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batter. Kyle Blanks singled to left. Game over.

"It's definitely heartbreaking," De Fratus said.

The two protagonists disagreed.

"A loss is a loss," Lee said. "It doesn't really matter how you get there."

"I don't know what's worse; getting beat 15-0 or beat that way," Papelbon said. "To me, it's a loss."

He permitted a bloop single to Blanks that plated two. Yasmani Grandal bounced into a double play and an escape appeared. Papelbon threw pinch-hitter Mark Kotsay a 2-0 splitter that Carlos Ruiz could not catch. It skipped to the backstop. The tying run scored.

"I don't have anything to say," Ruiz said. "I expected to catch the ball. I missed it."

Or, as Papelbon put it, "(Stuff) happens."

Performances like Lee's first eight innings are bittersweet. Fans watch and wonder, Can't he pitch for us every day? They enjoy it knowing the potential twist; Lee is aligning himself as baseball's finest trade commodity come July and could supply youth to an aging roster. There are cities beyond Philadelphia that crave his presence.

He has a 2.00 ERA in his last 10 starts. His season ERA is 2.51, ninth in the National League.

Ruben Amaro Jr. has insisted his reluctance to trade Lee, no matter the circumstances. That is the public face expected of a general manager in June. Come July, Amaro is sure to listen to offers for Lee if his team has not improved its play. A dearth of starting pitchers on the market could put Amaro in a prime bargaining position. He has no immediate need to trade Lee unless the package in return is overwhelming. So why not listen?

More than a smattering of Phillies fans greeted them across the country for the start of this 11-day trip. Petco Park is usually better than home; the Phillies are 24-7 here since the ballpark opened in 2004. But there was little comfort for Manuel, who could not sleep following the team's charter flight Sunday.

The manager could barely speak before Monday's game. He wrote down a lineup that did not include Ryan Howard, his hottest hitter and 2 for 2 lifetime with two home runs against San Diego's starter, Eric Stults. Howard's balky left knee hurt during batting practice. He could not play.

That weakened a moribund team. The Phillies possess a minus-59 run differential, only better than pathetic Miami and Houston. The underachieving National League East is what has kept the Phillies close to relevancy. Now they are five games under .500 for the first time since May 10.

Manuel said he would have pinch-hit for Lee in the ninth had Ruiz reached ahead of him. He did not, and Lee struck out for the fourth time.

"I wanted to hit and finish the game," Lee said. "I was glad to get the chance."

Ultimately, the pitcher could not outrun more disappointment. Another Phillies loss and another day closer to July 31 will accentuate the trade rumors. As for Manuel, another sleepless night awaited.

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

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