BY THE END of the night, the Phillies' offense had produced three runs, their shortstop had missed his second straight game with a swollen knee, their first baseman had fouled a ball off an ankle, and there was significant cause to question which of their former closers was more game-ready: Brad Lidge, whose attempted return from a rotator-cuff strain has been interrupted by soreness in his elbow, or retiree Tom Gordon, who returned to Citizens Bank Park to watch his son Dee make his major league debut with the Dodgers.

Yet there they were, cruising to a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles that felt more like 12-1, watching their new lights-out closer nail down another save, improving their record to 36-24 and building their lead in the NL East to four games. Despite all of the injuries, as well as the lingering uncertainty about those who are at least plausibly healthy, the Phillies are on a 97-win pace through 60 games and looking every bit the NL favorite that they were projected to be.

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The driving force behind all of the success was again on display last night. The Ace du Jour was the lefthanded one from rural Arkansas, and all Cliff Lee did was pitch seven scoreless innings and strike out 10 while walking one. The Dodgers made him work early, as teams have often tried do, but they were not nearly as successful as the Nationals 6 days before, when Lee walked three and allowed six runs in 5 innings of a 10-2 loss.

They opened up the game with a pair of singles, but were otherwise at the mercy of a game plan that Lee executed to perfection. He pounded the zone early with his fastball and cutter, painting the black so often that Dodgers third baseman Casey Blake was ejected arguing one such pitch.

Then, Lee downshifted to his curveball, a pitch he admitted afterward that he should throw more often in order to keep hitters from sitting on his hard stuff. It's his third-best pitch in terms of command, but last night it was closer to 1-C, as he threw it 17 times, 10 for strikes, including six swings-and-misses. In the sixth, Lee was straight unfair.

He started the frame by unleashing three straight to MVP candidate Matt Kemp, the first for a called strike, the second two for swings-and-misses.

One down.

Lee came back with a couple of fastballs to Juan Uribe, showed a curveball that the infielder fouled off, then came back with a 93 mph fastball that prompted a swing and miss.

Two down.

Finally came Blake, who took a changeup, swung through a curveball, then looked at a curveball for a called third strike. He disagreed in a manner that did not sit well with home plate umpire Mike Carlson, who kindly requested that he vacate the field of play.

Heading into last night, Lee had thrown his curveball on less than 8 percent of his pitches.

"We've talked about it in the past about how we need to use it more," said Lee, who improved to 5-5 while lowering his ERA to 3.62, referring to pitching coach Rich Dubee. "That'll get them off fastballs and cutters that I throw a lot. We both agreed that I need to use it more. I've been told that my whole career. For whatever reason, I still don't use it as much as I should, but tonight was a night where I did, and the results were there."

The Phillies got the only two runs they needed in the third inning, when Wilson Valdez doubled and scored on a Placido Polanco single and Shane Victorino walked and scored on a Ryan Howard single.

Valdez was in the lineup for the second straight night as shortstop Jimmy Rollins recovers from a bruise he suffered when he fouled a ball off his right kneecap in Saturday's loss to the Pirates. He had an X-ray and an MRI yesterday, both of which were negative, and he hopes to be back on the field by the weekend.

Lidge's future is far more tenuous. Already facing an uncertainty while battling back from a rotator-cuff strain, he was forced to halt his progression in extended-spring-training games and return to Philadelphia for an appointment with team doctor Michael Ciccotti. At the very least, he seems unlikely to return before the end of the month.

The good news is that the Phillies have not missed him, thanks to Madson's dominant performance (he allowed a run but recorded his 13th consecutive save) and the emergence of young arms like Antonio Bastardo and Michael Stutes. Last night, Bastardo pitched a perfect eighth while veteran setup man Jose Contreras remained on the bench. Charlie Manuel said Contreras, who struggled the day before and recently returned from an elbow strain, is healthy. The manager liked the lefty Bastardo so the Dodgers would not pinch-hit lefty star Andre Ethier for righty Marcus Thames.

At this point, it doesn't seem to matter who pitches in tight situations for the Phillies. And the results are evident.

For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese.

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