IN THE LAST game of the first series of the season - on a Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh - the Phillies took a 4-1 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. They ended up losing the game, 5-4.

Less than a month later in Atlanta, in the forgettable game that Roy Halladay surrendered a 6-0 lead, the Phillies rallied to take a 12-8 lead into the bottom of the eighth at Turner Field. They would lose 15-13.

The trend would continue through September, when the Phils had a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning in Houston only to drop a 7-6 decision to the lowly Astros.

In a year that was defined by devastating injuries to three of its most important players - Halladay, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley - the unreliability of the bullpen was equally as disastrous in a season that ended without the Phils in the postseason for the first time since 2006.

The Phillies lost 16 games that they had led in the seventh inning or later in 2012. Even if they had won just half of those games, the Phils would have finished 89-73, a game in front of the St. Louis Cardinals for the National League's second wild-card slot.

In an effort to prevent history from repeating itself in 2013, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., who has shopped in the dollar store for most of the winter, spent some coin to secure one of the big- league's top late-inning relievers.

The Phils finalized a 2-year, $12 million contract with free-agent reliever Mike Adams on Thursday. The pact includes a vesting option for a third year.

If Adams makes 120 appearances in the first 2 years of the contract, with 60 in 2014, another $6.5 million kicks in for 2015. If he makes 65 appearances in '14, it vests for $6 million. The Phils also hold a club option for $6 million if he doesn't meet either of those numbers.

Regardless of how the contract plays out, the 34-year-old Adams, who has a 1.84 ERA over the last four seasons, should solidify the back end of the bullpen in a way Chad Qualls did not in 2012.

"We obviously felt we had that part of the bullpen handled with [Antonio] Bastardo and [Mike] Stutes and what they had done the year before," Amaro said of failing to add a setup man this time last year, when the team let Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge leave as free agents. "But the back end of the bullpen is a volatile position year to year unless guys have tremendous track records, as Mike has had. We're fortunate to be able to bring him in."

Adams will pitch in front of Jonathan Papelbon in the back end of the bullpen, giving the Phils their best 1-2 punch at the end of the game since they went to two World Series with Madson and Lidge.

Adams is used to pitching in front of All-Star closers. In the last four seasons he's pitched before Trevor Hoffman and Heath Bell (in San Diego) and Neftali Feliz and Joe Nathan (in Texas).

Adams actually had the opportunity to sign as a closer elsewhere this winter, or get more guaranteed years from another team. But he liked what the Phillies had to offer.

"I know I have a good opportunity not only to fill that void in the back of the bullpen, but to help this team get to the next level," Adams said. "I'm really looking forward to it. I'm excited about the whole opportunity of playing for the Phillies. I know this is a place where the fans are very rabid for their Phillies. I like that, I'm coming from Texas where the ballpark was filled every night. This is one of those places where it's easy to come to the ballpark everyday."

The Phils were able to snag Adams for a 2-year deal in part because he is coming off his worst season in the last 5 years and a major surgery, too.

After going 9-5 with a 1.42 ERA in 182 games between 2009-11, striking out 192 batters in 177 1/3 innings, Adams saw his ERA jump to 3.27 in 2012. But there was a reason for the sudden drop-off: Adams pitched with an injury for the duration of the season.

"Last year was a huge, huge struggle," Adams said. "For the majority of the season I battled . . . I didn't have a good feel for the ball. There were times where I felt like I didn't know how to grip a fastball just because I didn't have that feel.

"By the end of the year it had caught up to me; it got to the point where my arm felt like it weighed 5-6 pounds more than it normally did. The ball felt like it weighed 3 pounds. My last outing, I felt like I was throwing a shot put."

Adams was suffering from Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He had surgery to correct it in October, which included having a right rib removed.

"That first rib starts squeezing the clavicle," Adams said of the ailment. "You have a main artery and a nerve that runs through there, so when you start squeezing those, that nerve starts shooting pain through your body. I was having headaches constantly for 3 weeks. My trap was hurting, my pec, the middle of my back was hurt. I was having some numbness and tingling in my biceps and forearm and it was something that was pretty bad."

Adams began his throwing program 3 weeks ago and said it feels like he "has a new arm."

Matt Harrison, Adam's teammate in Texas, had the same surgery in 2009 and recovered without a problem. Harrison has gone 35-22 with a 3.56 ERA in 100 games since the surgery, including 18-11 with a 3.29 ERA in 32 starts for the Rangers last season.

The Phils understand they are taking a risk in giving a 2-year deal to a reliever coming off surgery, but it is a risk they are willing to take given their struggles in the bullpen last year and Adams' talent. Amaro sent special assistant Charley Kerfeld to watch Adams throw after the winter meetings to make sure he looked healthy.

"We've had our eye on Mike for a long time," Amaro said. "While there is some risk to it, it probably was a good risk. This is a guy who can probably solidify our bullpen."

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21