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Phillies' Lee tips hat to conqueror in pitchers' duel

Atlanta's Julio Teheran throws a three-hitter in 1-0 victory, while Phils bemoan well-hit balls that found Braves' gloves.

Cliff Lee pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)
Cliff Lee pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)Read more

CLIFF LEE likes to work quickly, so he made sure the conversation he had with Ryne Sandberg in the bottom of the eighth inning was a brief one.

"How do you feel?"

"I feel good."

And so Lee went back out for his ninth and final inning, despite having thrown 114 pitches in the eight innings that preceded it. Lee would allow back-to-back hits to begin the ninth, but he battled back and kept the two baserunners stranded.

Sixteen days removed from one of the worst starts of his big-league career - a game that ended with him getting an improbable win on Opening Day - Lee saw those pesky baseball gods make things right with him.

Last night in South Philly, Lee struck out 13 and walked one. He threw a career-high 128 pitches. The only blemish on Lee's line was a solo homer by Evan Gattis.

Lee was great, or even "phenomenal," as teammate Ben Revere would say afterward, but the guy with whom he shared the mound at Citizens Bank Park was close to perfect. Julio Teheran held the Phillies to three singles en route to his first career shutout as the Braves blanked the Phillies, 1-0.

"Occasionally, you run into a pitcher that's on top of what he's doing, like tonight, and he shut us out, and that's part of the game," Lee said. "Looking back on it, I made a mistake on the one pitch that cost me a run, and that's my fault."

Gattis, who had a career-high four hits, jumped on an 0-2 fastball from Lee to lead off the fourth inning. Gattis has hit six home runs in the six career games he has played at Citizens Bank Park.

Lee, of course, would like to have the 0-2 pitch back, which has become a trend in the first month of the 2014 season. Entering yesterday, opponents were hitting .389 (7-for-18) against Lee after an 0-2 count.

"He attacks the hitters," Sandberg said of Lee's 0-2 pitches. "He's real aggressive. Other than that, he's around the plate."

Teheran, meanwhile, threw four perfect innings before Ryan Howard hit a slow ground ball to second and beat shifted third baseman Chris Johnson's throw for an infield single. Yes, the Phillies got a complete game from Lee and an infield single from Howard, and lost.

"The offense just couldn't push a run across for him with the three hits," Sandberg said. "I counted about six or seven balls hit on the nose right at the defense on a cold night on the offensive side."

The 29th complete game of Lee's career - and 12th in a Phillies uniform - was also his second straight that ended in a 1-0 loss to the Braves. In his final start of 2013, Lee struck out 13 and walked none but allowed a solo home run to Johnson in defeat.

Last night's start marked the eighth time Lee had pitched eight-plus innings and was on the losing end of a game since rejoining the Phillies in 2011. In that 4-year span, only two other pitchers have matched Lee in that cruel fate: Detroit's Justin Verlander and Seattle's Felix Hernandez.

"I felt like I did what I needed to do," Lee said. "You've got to give credit to the opposing pitcher. We didn't score, he shut us out, so he was obviously doing something right."

The 23-year-old Teheran, Atlanta's Opening Day starter, entered the night 1-1 with a 6.55 ERA in two career starts against the Phillies. His most recent start against the Phillies came in the 2013 season finale, when he looked fairly ordinary in allowing four runs in five innings of a 12-5 Atlanta win.

Teheran looked anything but ordinary this time. Although the Phils had a handful of line-drive outs, Teheran had allowed just one baserunner before Carlos Ruiz' two-out single in the eighth.

"He was hitting spots and everything," said Revere, one of six Phillies in the starting lineup who went hitless. "Man, that's just the way baseball goes. We have a bunch of guys hitting it right on the money, but just right at their guys. It was definitely [Teheran's] night. Everything went the way he wanted."

Down to their last out, the Phillies got one of their trio of hits off Teheran when Jimmy Rollins singled to center. Rollins then swiped second to put the tying run in scoring position with Chase Utley, the major league's top hitter in 2014 entering the night, at the plate.

But Utley bounced out to second base to end the game. With it also came an end to Utley's 16-game hitting streak.

After dropping the first two games of the series, the Phillies will try to salvage the finale against the Braves before flying to Denver, where they'll begin a 10-day, 10-game, three-city West Coast trip tomorrow.

"We were right there, we kept at it because we knew Cliff would keep them right there, just one run," Revere said. "But that's how baseball goes. Hit it hard and right at them. It's just frustrating. We just have to keep our heads up for tomorrow."