The Phillies left Citizens Bank Park yesterday more perturbed than puzzled.
They felt they had let one slip away.
Cubs lefthander Ted Lilly allowed just three hits in eight innings in a 4-1 victory, but he didn't leave the Phillies particularly amazed. He threw strikes. Sometimes he threw them right down the middle of the plate. The Phils just couldn't hit him, and then they compounded their problems with some physical and mental errors that made a comeback impossible.
It also prevented them from sweeping their first series this season.
"[Lilly] got away," Abraham Nunez said. "He didn't overpower anybody. We were just fouling off balls and popping them up."
The Phillies are 17-20 overall, and just 5-10 in games against lefthanded starting pitchers. That includes two losses each in games started by Tom Glavine, Dontrelle Willis and Chuck James and one loss each in games started by Scott Olsen, Noah Lowry, Doug Davis and Lilly.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they will face four righthanded pitchers beginning tonight in a four-game series at home against the Milwaukee Brewers.
But their lack of production against Lilly wasted another fine effort from righthander Jon Lieber, who allowed nine hits, two runs (one earned) and one walk in eight innings. He struck out five.
Lieber is 1-2 with a 2.83 ERA this season. He has a 2.20 ERA in five starts since returning to the rotation.
Remarkably, the Phillies are 1-4 in those starts. They have scored just eight runs in those four losses.
"It's tough," Shane Victorino said. "He pitched a great game. I'm sure it's frustrating for him. Ever since he came back to the rotation, he's done a great job. He's proving what he wanted. He wanted to be back in that starting rotation and he's doing what he needs to do."
The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning. Daryle Ward, who replaced Derrek Lee in the bottom of the second inning because Lee had neck spasms, hit a leadoff double to left-center field.
Aramis Ramirez followed and bounced a ball deep into the hole at third base. Nunez, who had his right foot on the outfield grass, picked up the ball but bounced the throw to Wes Helms for an error. Ward scored on a single by Matt Murton and Ramirez scored on a two-out single by Cesar Izturis.
"That's a play I have to make," Nunez said. "It was a long throw, but I think I rushed it. It was deep, but I had more time than I thought I had to throw the ball. That was a key play in that inning."
It was a key play in the game. If one of those runs had not scored, the Phillies would have tied the game in the bottom of the eighth. Maybe Charlie Manuel would have used his bullpen differently at that point. Brett Myers might not have been available because he threw two innings Saturday. Geoff Geary probably would have been the closer if needed.
But trailing by 2-1, Manuel went with Antonio Alfonseca in the top of the ninth. Alfonseca allowed back-to-back singles to Izturis and Cliff Floyd to start the inning and put runners at the corners. Alfonseca then walked Ryan Theriot with one out to load the bases.
Lefthander Fabio Castro entered to face Ward, but the Cubs countered with Mark DeRosa.
It didn't matter. Castro walked DeRosa on four pitches to make it 3-1. Clay Condrey worked out of the jam, but another run scored on a fielder's choice that actually could have been a double play. Chase Utley had trouble getting the ball out of his glove and couldn't get the throw to first in time.
Both runs were charged to Alfonseca, who has allowed 10 earned runs in 62/3 innings (13.50 ERA) in his last eight appearances. Castro, who replaced lefthander Matt Smith in the bullpen because Smith couldn't throw strikes, has allowed three hits, four runs, three walks and one home run in three appearances since he joined the team.
"It's not discouraging," Jimmy Rollins said. "That's a strong word. But it's definitely frustrating. That's a big problem, not getting holds and keeping them down. But they get paid to hit, too."
The game ended when Utley tried to stretch a single into a double.
"That was a bad decision," Utley said.
Nothing went right yesterday, except for Lilly. He might not have dazzled, but he won.