By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—When Cliff Lee and Stephen Strausburg took the mound for the Phillies and Washington Nationals, you were expecting a pitcher’s duel where a run or two was going to decide the game with plenty of strikeouts along the way.
It wasn’t the prettiest performance by either pitcher, but it wasn’t bad. In fact, there was only one earned run and 10 strikeouts between them. Lee nor Strausburg got the decision either way.
In seven innings, Lee gave up two runs (one earned) and struck out five on just four hits.
Unfortunately for the Phillies, Lee’s solid start was ruined by a poor outing by the bullpen that gave up three runs on five hits in the eighth inning to propel the Nationals to a 5-3 win Friday night at Citizen’s Bank Park.
In that decisive top of the eighth, the Phillies had a 3-2 lead. But Mike Adams gave up a double to Denard Spann and an RBI single to third baseman Anthony Rendon. After another single by Jayson Werth and manager Ryne Sandberg yanked Adams, who got the loss, from the game.
“I’ve got to do a better job of holding the lead,” Adams said after the game. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know what adjustments need to be made. It’s bad that (Lee) threw way he did and gave us a chance to win. As a whole, I’m guessing we need to get better.
“We need to make sure the coaches and the starting pitchers have enough confidence in us that they’re not afraid to go to us in the eighth inning.”
Reliever Jake Diekman couldn’t stop the bleeding giving up an RBI single to first baseman Adam LaRoche and a run-scoring double to shortstop Ian Desmond. Those runs were charged to Adams. It was the sixth time this season the Phillies bullpen has blown a lead in the late innings.
You had to be wondering why Antonio Bastardo, the Phillies regular eighth-inning set-up man wasn’t on the mound that inning? He did pitch the ninth inning, allowing a single and a walk. Sandberg said went with the right hander Adams because he liked the matchup with two right-handed hitters Rendon and Werth.
The bottom of the eighth was equally troubling for Phillies fans. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins opened the inning with a walk and second baseman Chase Utley singled to put runners on first and second.
Then disaster struck.
Ryan Howard inexplicably swung at a 2-0 curve ball and popped out to short. Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard fanned Marlon Byrd and Domonic Brown to end the Phillies threat and that was your ball game.
“We had two had men on and no outs, we did not come through in that situation which was one of our few chances throughout the game to add after the first inning,” Sandberg said. “That was the big thing was scoring early and not adding on.”
Byrd took the blame upon himself for not driving in the runs when his team had the chance.
“I had a chance with runners on first and second, but it was bad mechanics, bad approach,” Byrd said. “I didn’t make Clippard have to work. I feel that’s why I’m here to drive in runs. I take pride in doing it when the runners are in scoring position and I didn’t do it.”
Reliever Jerry Blevins was credited with the win in relief for the Nationals.
Strausburg went six-innings for the Nationals with five strikeouts and six hits and got a no-decision. He gave up a three-run homer to Byrd in the first inning. The runs were unearned because rightfielder Jayson Werth dropped a foul ball hit by Byrd to prolongthe inning. It would have been the final out.
After Strausburg retired the first two batters in the first inning, he gave up a pair of singles to Utley and Howard. Byrd parked a 2-2 Strausburg pitch into the right centerfield seats for a three-run homer to give a Phillies a 3-0 lead.
The Nationals got a couple of runs back on a solo homerun by left fielder Tyler Moore in the third and an RBI ground out by Denard Spann that drove home Moore, who singled to begin the fifth inning.
It was that particular at-bat between Lee and Spann that almost turned into a bench-clearing brawl. When Spann stepped out of the batter’s box a fast ball by Lee came close to hitting him in the chest. The Nationals centerfielder stared at Lee.
“Obviously, I made a pitch and he wasn’t ready,” Lee said. “I’ll do that every time if they want to stand there and not look. I’ll take a strike. I threw a ball. Maybe he was mad because it was close to him. If they’re going to stand there and not look I’m going to throw a pitch. I think it’s on the hitter to be in the box and make sure they’re ready.”
As Spann was heading toward the dugout, the two apparently exchanged words, but were separated by umpires as both benches cleared. No punches were thrown.