CLIFF LEE was better than Stephen Strasburg, and Marlon Byrd hit a three-run home run.
On most nights, that should be enough to steer a team to victory when two aces do battle.
When said game also involves an appearance by the Phillies bullpen, however, all bets are off.
Buoyed by Byrd's home run, Lee left after seven innings with a one-run lead. But when Lee handed the ball over to the relief corps, they gave up the lead - and then some - before recording an out.
The lefty-righty relief combo of Mike Adams and Jake Diekman provided little last night, giving up five straight hits to begin the eighth inning as the Phillies bullpen blew up in a 5-3 defeat to the Washington Nationals.
"I think we'll take Mike Adams in the eighth inning with a lead every time, no matter who's coming up," Lee said. "I know I will. It was just one of those days where they got their hits. They earned it."
Adams entered the game with a 3-2 lead. He exited after giving up three straight hits. He served up a game-tying single to Anthony Rendon on the seventh pitch he threw.
Diekman took over and gave up back-to-back run-scoring hits by Adam LaRoche and Ian Desmond.
A bullpen that finished the night with a National League-worst 5.07 ERA continued to be the Achilles' heel to a team trying to keep up with the rest of the National League East. The loss dropped the Phillies (13-14) back below the .500 mark and into last place, too.
After entering May with their first non-losing record in 3 years, the Phils finished play last night as the NL East's only team with a losing record.
"The eighth inning has been a good inning for us with various guys throughout the year," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I actually felt pretty good at that point, because that's been a good inning for us. Five consecutive hits, that's hard to do. But it happened."
The first meeting between the Phillies and Nationals in 2014 couldn't have gotten off to a better start for the home team.
After Lee sent the Nats down in order in the first, Byrd made the most of a second chance in the bottom of the inning.
Byrd battled back from behind in the count against Strasburg before taking a 96-mph fastball out on the outer half and depositing it the opposite way, over the rightfield fence, for the game's biggest hit. But Byrd also got a little lucky, too.
Byrd fouled off the third offering from Strasburg and watched as it nearly a landed in the rightfield corner, just beyond the foul line, with former Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth approaching to make the catch. It would have been the last out of the inning.
Instead, Werth couldn't hold on to the ball, it landed foul and the rightfielder was charged with an error. Three pitches later, Byrd took advantage of that error and put the Phillies in front.
Washington's come-from-behind rally was also assisted by an error.
After homering in his first at-bat off Lee to begin the third inning, Tyler Moore singled to begin the fifth. But he appeared to be on his way back to the bench when Jose Lobaton followed by hitting a sharp ground ball to second baseman Chase Utley, surely the beginning of a doubleplay.
Instead, Utley booted it, the Phils didn't record an out, and Moore scored two batters later on a Denard Span groundout to bring Washington within one run. Some fireworks followed, too.
Span stopped as he jogged toward the visiting dugout and walked towed the mound. Lee was jawing at the Washington outfielder after an at-bats that included Span calling a late timeout.
Lee, who was already in his windup, threw the ball up and in on Span. Span stepped out, stared Lee's way, and then stepped back into the box and finished off his at-bat.
But when words continued between the two, both benches cleared. It was nothing more than a lot of talk, however.
"I made the pitch and he kept shrugging at me like, 'What are you doing?' " Lee explained. "So when he ran off, I said, 'If you're going to be in the box, you need to be ready to hit.' And that was really it. No one was really mad or anything. I think it got overblown."
The brief skirmish didn't do anything to stir the Phillies bats awake, either.
Byrd's first-inning blast was the Phillies offense. They managed only five hits (four singles) and were shut out in the game's final nine innings.
Jimmy Rollins and Utley attempted to ignite the lineup in the eighth, when the former led off with a walk and the latter singled. But the run producers in the middle of the lineup - Ryan Howard, Byrd and Domonic Brown - followed with an infield fly and two strikeouts.
"We didn't have too many chances other than that," Sandberg said.
Brown (0-for-4, three strikeouts) is hitless in his last 12 at-bats and is batting .189 with two RBI, one extra-base hit and 10 strikeouts in his last 14 games.
"I think tonight he just wasn't picking [Strasburg's] changeup up, and thats what he was seeing," Sandberg said. "He was facing an excellent pitcher. I think with him it's just a matter of time."