PHILADELPHIA—It had to happen eventually.

And that’s why losing Cliff Lee gems are so hard to swallow.

Because inevitably, Lee was going to have an off night, as he did in the Phillies 5-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals tonight. He surrendered five runs in five innings, with most of the damage coming in a four-run fourth despite two outs on the board.

Only now, the Phillies have dropped half of his starts, the other being the series opener in Cincinnati, when Lee went seven innings and served only two runs on five hits.

And in a post-expanded postseason baseball world, every inch matters – especially inches that so easily could’ve happened inches to the left of the loss column.

“It was cold enough that it was hard for him to get a grip on his fastball,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think that had something to do with his command.”

Sure looked OK on a colder, rainer night for Game 3 in Atlanta, Lee’s first gem of 2013.

“I don’t know, I’m not going to sit here and make excuses,” Lee said.

“Obviously I struggled commanding the ball. I have to do a better job of commanding the strike zone. That’s it, in a nutshell. That’s what it boils down to.”

With men on first and second and two outs in the fourth, Matt Holliday walked to load the bases, and Allen Craig, Yadier Molina and David Freese all singled to score the four.
Molina’s single slogged seemingly well within Chase Utley’s range for what could’ve been out No. 3. Who knows why, but Utley took a jab step right and couldn’t recover.

“You’ll have to ask him,” said Manuel. “He might not have seen it or whatever. I don’t know. I saw it. Looked to me like he broke the other way.”

“I don’t know, you’re going to have to ask him about that,” said Lee.
Was he surprised?

“A little bit. I mean, yeah. But I haven’t asked him what happened there. I don’t know.”

Utley didn't make himself available to answer for that play or the lefties’ quiet bats.
Later, Carlos Beltran rocketed his third home run of the series to lead off the fifth.

This isn’t a regular thing for Lee, who allowed five or more in five for fewer tonight for only the fifth time since 2010. He had only one such game all last season.

Tonight, Lee walked three of first five batters to start the fourth. He’d entered working a modern day-record 20 game run of starts of six or more innings with one walk or fewer.

He hadn’t walked multiple batters in a game since last June.

Lee entered with the best first-strike percentage in baseball. Only 13 of 24 Cardinals who faced him tonight faced 0-1 counts. Of 102 pitches total, just 66 were strikes.
It’s unlikely that Lee makes this habit. He entered with baseball’s second-best K/BB, third-best WHIP and seventh-best ERA so far, with the game's most innings per start.

Hopefully the Phillies make squandering of his finest starts a rarity. Didn’t last year. This makes for 13 of 34 starts since last year that he's gotten one run of support or fewer.

If Lee was ever to have slack, it would’ve been against Cardinals starter Lance Lynn, who before had a 5.40 ERA overall and 321 average and 1.032 OPS against lefties.

Only, Lynn threw seven innings of one-hit ball, and Jimmy Rollins, Freddy Galvis, Chase Utley, Domonic Brown and Ben Revere went a combined 0 for 13 against him.
“I thought we were going to score some runs tonight,” said Manuel.

“I really did. I felt like our left-handed hitters were gonna get in on this guy. But at the same time, the guy shut us out, he pitched a good game.”

Michael Young, who hit cleanup while Ryan Howard nursed a groin strain for a second straight day, went 1 for 4 with three strikeouts. He bumped his hit streak to 11 games.

Lynn never in 34 starts prior threw a one-hitter. He dealt four 1-2-3 innings tonight.

Erik Kratz teased with a deep shot to center in the fifth. But swirling winds kept it in.
That and a leadoff double from John Mayberry in the fifth were the extent of the offense.

“It’s extremely hard,” said Mayberry, who went 1 for 3 and walked. “Sometimes you’re at the ultimate high and other times you’re at the ultimate low. Hopefully we’ll become more consistent and we’ll be able to put up a lot of runs night in and night out.”

The Cardinals bullpen, which entered the series with an ML-worst 6.08 ERA, has tossed four scoreless innings in two games, including two tonight.

Oddly enough, the Phillies bullpen proved tonight's lone positive. Phillippe Aumont, Jeremy Horst and Joe Savery tossed four scoreless innings in relief. Aumont retired six straight. Horst allowed one hit, their only hit. Savery, in his 2013 debut as the two-day fill-in for John Lannan's roster spot until Monday, walked his first and sat down the rest.

Lee's under contract with the Phillies through 2016, so to expect this to be the last time he stumbles while wearing red pinstripes just isn't practical.

But expecting the Phillies to cash in every time he's money? Totally fair game.