WASHINGTON - When the Nationals' 10-2 demolishing of the Phillies was over Tuesday night, Cliff Lee sat at a kitchen table in the clubhouse with Roy Halladay and Kyle Kendrick. He might have contemplated how one of the worst offenses in the majors could hang six runs on him, or maybe how long he could avoid answering questions about his lackluster performance.
When he finally emerged, he belched in the faces of a few reporters, and that just about summed up this evening.
"It basically boiled down to [Danny] Espinosa hitting two big home runs for them," Lee said. "You have to give them credit."
Actually, it was more than that. Lee allowed those six runs on seven hits, walked three batters, and displayed little control of his fastball.
"He didn't have his command tonight," Charlie Manuel said. "He made some bad pitches up. It was one of those nights."
It represented the largest margin of victory for the Nationals over the Phillies since moving to Washington in 2005 and the most runs allowed by the Phillies this season. Gasoline tossed on the fire by Danys Baez and Mike Zagurski did not help once Lee left.
A 3.94 ERA for the Phillies' $120 million pitcher as the calendar turns from May to June will create panic across the Delaware Valley. Not once in 2010 did Lee's ERA climb above 3.44. Actually, Lee's ERA has not been this high at the start of June since 2007, when he spent a month in the minor leagues.
He already has walked more batters in 2011 (19 in 80 innings) than he did in all of 2010 (18 in 2121/3 innings). His third walk Tuesday prompted Manuel to take the ball from his lefthander.
But two months do not make a season, and this is the axiom the Phillies and Lee will rely upon in the coming days before Lee's next start at home against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This one unraveled in the third inning and the score escalated quickly. Brian Bixler singled on the first pitch from Lee. Roger Bernardina singled on the second pitch. Jayson Werth hit a sacrifice fly on the second pitch. Michael Morse hit a run-scoring single on the second pitch. And, finally, Espinosa hit his first of two home runs on a first-pitch change-up from Lee.
Lee is a pitcher who will rarely deviate from his plan, which in succinct terms is to throw strikes. He will almost always throw a first-pitch fastball for a strike. Hitters know this. But Lee can still succeed with the strategy because of the movement and pinpoint location of his fastball and cutter.
That location has been lacking at times this season, and that is the primary culprit for his inconsistency. He will not change his philosophy.
"I'm going to be that way until I'm done playing this game," Lee said. "I want the other team to be aggressive and swing early. Nine times out of 10, that's good. Every once in a while they're going to get some hits off of you early."
Sure, even the best pitchers are not immune from nights like these. Four times during his spectacular 2010, Lee allowed six or more runs in a start. The walks, on the other hand, are somewhat disconcerting.
Yes, six of them came one night in St. Louis when Lee voiced his displeasure at the strike zone. Yes, he has topped 10 strikeouts five times and his strikeout rate is far greater than it was a season ago. Yes, he remains one of the game's dominant pitchers and provides unparalleled promise in October.
But those facts were of little solace Tuesday, when Lee completed only 51/3 innings for his second-shortest outing of 2011.
"I'd like to erase this from my memory and wish this never happened," Lee said. "But I can't do that. This is reality."