With Cliff Lee on the mound Wednesday, the Phillies had a great chance to not only make it to the .500 mark again, but also to make up ground on the division-leading Braves, who lost 6-2 to the Marlins today.
Instead, the Nationals managed capitalize on a few Lee mistakes in the form of four home runs, while Gio Gonzalez gave a strong effort in his seven innings to win it for Washington.
Lee and Gonzalez were evenly matched throughout the game's first half, with neither allowing a run through the first five innings, looking early like the pitchers' duel most would expect from these two star lefties. Lee was working especially quick; in his seven innings, he only threw 76 pitches total. 64 were strikes, however, and that would prove to be his undoing.
Lee had allowed just four hits through five innings, and the Nationals went down 1-2-3 the previous inning, when rookie Anthony Rendon hit a solo home run to left to lead off the fifth, his fourth of the year. Wilson Ramos followed up by sending a ball over the fence in right for his fourth homer of the season, giving the Nationals a 2-0 lead. Ian Desmond doubled with two outs, but Lee struck out Bryce Harper looking to stop the bleeding.
In the bottom of the inning, Delmon Young and Darin Ruf worked consecutive walks to leadoff. After Carlos Ruiz lined out, Lee sac-bunted Young and Ruf up a base apiece, to second and third respectively, but Ben Revere struck out to end the inning.
It was deja-vu all over again as Ryan Zimmerman mashed a fasball from Lee over the centerfield fence to lead off the top of the sixth. Jayson Werth, who homered in yesterday's game, sent another drive to left and over the fence to put the Nationals up 4-0.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the next half innings. In the bottom of the seventh, Darin Ruf hit a solo shot of his own, his first in the majors this season, off of Gonzalez to cut the deficit to 4-1 with two outs. Kevin Frandsen batted for Lee following a Ruiz single, and managed to leg out a base hit on a bunt up the third-base line, putting men on first and second with two outs, but Revere flew out to end the inning and strand those runners, too.
Recently-called up Luis Garcia relieved Lee in the eigth and managed to work out of a jam with two men on with a strikeout and double play. The Phillies went down without much trouble in the bottom of the inning, stranding Chase Utley at first.
Justin DeFratus relieved Garcia to start the ninth, but didn't get quite as fortunate as the latter. Rendon led off the inning with a double to the right field wall, and Ramos reached first on an error, which was enough to get DeFratus pulled for Jake Diekman.
Diekman got pinch hitter Scott Hairston (hitting for switched-out PH Chad Tracy) to fly out, but got into a jam when Denard Span reached on another error, this a throwing one on Diekman himself, scoring Rendon from third, making it 5-1. Ian Desmond walked to load the bases, but Diekman managed to pull himself together and strike out the next two batters to escape the inning.
The Phillies had Delmon Young, Ruf, and Ruiz up for the bottom of the ninth, representing the Phillies' last hope down by four runs. The Nationals weren't taking chances, though, and put in closer Rafael Soriano, who induced flyouts from all three batters to end the game.
It was a weird start to watch, particularly in regards to pitching. Lee was mostly dominant in his seven innings, save for the fifth and sixth, when the Nats scored the bulk of their runs. His command was great most of the time though, and the runs came in bunches, prompting the CSN Philly announcers to note that with Lee, "When it rains, it pours" in terms of opponent scoring. He struck out six and walked none.
Gonzalez, on the other hand, was worked; he threw 117 pitches in his seven innings. The Phillies, though, wasted a number of opportnities with men on. Revere, who extended his hitting streak to eight games with a single in the first, ended innings twice with men on.
And although they only gave up a single run (actually a decent feat considering the amount of men to reach base in the eigth and ninth innings), the bullpen looked as shaky as ever. It's nothing new, but it's hard to ignore. Garcia had good numbers in AAA, and looked OK tonight, but he's no stud.
The four home runs tied a career high for Lee. He given up four homers three times, all since 2010 (courtesy of ESPN.com).
The final game of the series starts tomorrow at 7:05 pm as the Nationals and Jordan Zimmermann take on Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies.