Lee denied after unraveling late against Cards

Lee denied after unraveling late against Cards

Lee denied after unraveling late against Cards
PHILADELPHIA -- A shaky first inning behind him, Cliff Lee was cruising. He was aggressively going after hitters and finished the fifth inning having retired 12 straight Cardinals.

Then came the fateful sixth.

Jon Jay hit an infield single, Allen Craig doubled off the wall and Matt Holliday changed the complexion of the game with a three-run homer that just cleared the right-field fence. The Phillies' offense couldn't bail Lee out, mustering only four hits in a 4-1 loss at a sold-out Citizens Bank Park.

"I had the game in hand," said Lee, who fell to 2-7 on the year. "I just left a couple pitches up -- the double off the wall and then the home run. But that's baseball."

Lee, who is winless in his last 11 home starts dating to last season, pitched well enough for the Phillies to win. But for the second straight night, the offense couldn't get much going.

In 2012, the Phillies have scored only 52 runs while Lee is in games. Lee entered the game with the sixth-lowest run support among Major League starting pitchers.

On Saturday, the Phillies scored their lone run in the first inning. Though Domonic Brown scored the run and Ryan Howard was credited with the RBI, Chase Utley was the one who made sure his team got on the board.

With Brown on third and Utley on second, Howard hit a ground ball that would have been a double play if not for a good slide from Utley. The second baseman delayed Rafael Furcal's throw to first just enough so that Howard could beat it out, allowing Brown's run to count.

That was about it for Philadelphia's offense.

"Our offense was really weak tonight," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Phillies are built around starting pitching, so it's important for the Phillies to win games started by Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels, something they did many times in their 102-win season a year ago. This season has been a different story, as they've won only 28 times in 58 starts from their Big Three.

"They hold the opposition to three or four runs, we still have to win those games," Manuel said.

On Saturday, Lee allowed 10 hits and lasted seven-plus innings. After working out of trouble in the first and allowing a leadoff double in the second, he went on a roll until the sixth, when Holliday offered the crushing blow.

"You really have no chance against Cliff Lee unless you capitalize on the balls he leaves out over the plate," Holliday said. "You try to hit them to the middle and opposite field. When he pitches in, he has that natural cross-fire that's hard to square up on."

It was the 19th home run surrendered by Lee this season, the most he's given up since 2006. Over the 32 starts he made in 2011, he allowed 18. Saturday marked his 20th start of '12.

"I don't know what my home run numbers were or are this year, I just know in this ballpark especially I need to be more down in the zone and induce more ground balls," Lee said. "When they're hitting the ball in the air, that's not good for me."

Jake Westbrook, Lee's former teammate with the Indians, all but shut down the Phillies' offense en route to his 12th win. Over 7 2/3, he induced 16 ground-ball outs. Manuel said Westbrook, whom he managed in Cleveland, kept the ball down in the zone and had a good sinker.

Lee didn't have his best stuff, but kept his team in the game. For him, it came down to a couple of poor pitches.

"That's the life for a starting pitcher," Lee said. "You've got to continue to make pitches. The opposing hitters are paid to hit and if you make too many mistakes, they're going to make you pay for it. Tonight, it much came down to pretty much two mistakes, the pitch to Craig and the pitch to Holliday. But it is what it is."

Jake Kaplan is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.