Phillies' Lee finally gets first win

Cliff Lee delivers to the plate during a Cliff Lee delivers to the plate during a game against the Mets. (July 4, 2012) Photo Credit: David Pokress

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The 37-46 Phillies, last in the NL East after ruling the division each of the previous five years, seemingly have lost everything but their sense of humor.

Cliff Lee, who had joined Vida Blue as the only Cy Young Award winners to begin a season without a victory in 13 or more starts, heard good-natured needling from teammates after ending his drought with Wednesday's 9-2 rout of the Mets.

"I think a few guys gave him a hard time," said Chase Utley, whose two-run homer in the seventh inning tied the score at 2.

"We all knew it was a matter of time,'' said Ty Wigginton, whose two-run blast in the ninth capped a six-run barrage against three Mets relievers. "But a pitcher who has done the things he's done shouldn't be sitting on zero wins at this time of year."

The seemingly star-crossed Lee, routinely a victim of poor support from an undermanned lineup, held the Mets to two runs and seven hits in eight innings. He walked one and struck out nine in a convincing 116-pitch effort punctuated by 86 strikes.

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Lee improved to 1-5 with a 3.98 ERA. He compiled a 17-8 record with a league-leading six shutouts and a 2.40 ERA in 2011. The Phillies finished the regular season with the major leagues' best record, 102-60.

If the 2008 Cy Young Award winner felt an overwhelming sense of relief at gaining that elusive "W," he wasn't letting on.

"I would have loved to have a win a long time ago," he told a crowd of reporters at his locker. "To me, it wasn't as big a deal as you guys made it out to be."

It clearly was a big deal to Charlie Manuel, his manager. Although the 33-year-old lefthander retired his last nine batters and the Phillies were in command after scoring three runs in each of the last three innings, Manuel summoned closer Jonathan Papelbon.

"We wanted to nail that one down,'' said Manuel, whose club lost its previous six games.

The Phillies were held to three or fewer runs in 10 of Lee's first 13 starts, but he wasn't about to complain about that. "It's been disappointing in the fact that we're in last place,'' Lee said, "and we're way better than that.''

Anemic support explains most, but not all, of Lee's woes. He was 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA in his previous three starts, surrendering 16 earned runs in 182/3 innings. He did not resemble the dominant pitcher he was for Cleveland in 2008, when he led the American League in victories with a 22-3 mark and had a 2.54 ERA.

"It's been disappointing to me personally," he said, "because I let innings snowball."

The Phillies are not without hope. Perhaps Lee's breakthrough will provide a much-needed lift to him and the rest of a battered rotation. Offensively, Ryan Howard, one of the game's most lethal hitters, is to return soon. He ruptured an Achilles tendon in the team's final postseason at-bat last October.

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