Bad Cliff Lee tonight. He comes in a few varieties: Awesome, lights-out, unstoppable Cliff Lee (think Game 1 of the 2009 World Series), really good Cliff Lee (most of the time), and perplexingly mortal Cliff Lee (think the 2011 NLDS Game 2 against the Cardinals). Tonight was the lattermost of the Cliff Lee varieties, regrettably.
I hunted on the internet for a name to describe the act that involves two individuals, positioned at their workstations back-to-back, doing their work individually and then outputting the product to a third party, but I, uh, came up empty. If there is prior art out there, feel free to enlighten me in the comments. Absent a good name for it (such as "Cleveland Steamer" for instance), I think it might be called a "Phifer." Hopefully this is vague enough to keep most of the kids from asking questions.
Clifton allowed the Nationals to Phifer him twice tonight, once in the fifth inning when Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos hit homers to left and right, respectively. The first fell into clear "cheapie" territory, just clearing the fence in left. The second was out of my line of sight from Section 208, so I couldn't get a good view of where it landed. Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth repeated the act in the sixth, with the homer by Zimmerman to the deepest part of the park, into center near the jog to the batter's eye where Pat Burrell hit his last double in 2008. The enterprising gentleman who caught the ball threw it back to the infield nearly on the fly. It was the best throw I have seen from centerfield since Shane Victorino left.
The Phillies scored their only run on a solo shot to right by Darin Ruf in the seventh. This ball also just barely cleared the wall (maybe 355 for distance, IIRC), but as an opposite field homer, it was still something to see. Ruf nearly hit another in the ninth, but it died at about 400 feet in the deepest portion of centerfield almost exactly where Chase Utley's rocket to center went to die earlier in the game. Had the Phillies pulled or pushed either of those hits a little bit toward right or left, they would have had two more homers and the game would have been much different.
Gio Gonzalez went to the hill for the Nationals tonight, and appeared to be effective, but he benefited from some batted-ball luck. He went 7 innings with 6 hits allowed, 5 strikeouts, 2 walks, 1 earned run and a FIP of 4.386. He was erratic in the zone and had a hard time throwing balls for strikes at times, often running deep counts, averaging 18 pitches an inning (116 over 7 innings). Nevertheless, he gave up just the single run off Ruf's homer.
Lee's line was worse. He went seven innings, gave up 9 hits, including the 4 homers, struck out 6, walked none, and gave up 4 runs. His FIP was 8.814. A normalized homer percentage on fly balls would make his xFIP look better, but that is the nature of bad Cliff Lee. His outing took only 76 pitches, of which 64 were strikes. 64! It is apparently a record strike percentage for a losing pitcher with a minimum of 75 pitches per the Twitterverse (@MikeAngelina).
The Phillies bullpen got work after Lee left. It started with an interesting eighth inning with Luis Garcia making his Phillies debut. He whiffed Harper to start things off. Then he put a runner on with a strikeout/wild pitch of Ryan Zimmerman. The ball went out of play following the strikeout, so Zimmerman was awarded first base. So two K's to start, but only one out. He walked Werth and got out of the mess with a double play that was breathtaking.
Adam LaRoche scorched a ball up the middle on the first base side of second. Chase Utley laid out for it and snagged it, landing on his belly as he dove more or less toward second to catch the ball. He flipped it to Jimmy Rollins, who made a great throw to Ruf to complete the double play. It saved at least a run and ended the inning. Otherwise, the runner on second scores and there is only one out and the inning continues. Vintage Utley defense.
The bullpen struggled in the ninth with Justin De Fratus and Jake Diekman working the final frame. De Fratus started out by giving up a double to Rendon. He fielded a comebacker from Ramos, but made a poor throw in the general direction of Ruf at first after fumbling, bumbling and stumbling with the ball after he knocked it down . Ruf saved it, but De Fratus was faced with two runners and no outs instead of one runner and one out.
In came Diekman. Diekman got Scott Hairston to fly out, but Rendon moved to third on the play. Delmon Young made a strong throw to try to nail him from right, but it was not really close. It did remind me that Delmon Young, whatever his faults in mobility, certainly can throw well. Denard Span came to the plate and bunted, and Diekman airmailed the throw past Ruf. Rendon scored and the runners made second and third on the overthrow. Ian Desmond was intentionally walked, and Diekman struck out Bryce Harper on a 3 - 2 slider and got Ryan Zimmerman swinging to end it.
Diekman's performance was interesting to me. He struck out two tough hitters in a really tough spot. Take away his throwing error, and I was really intrigued. Ruiz calling for the slider on 3 - 2 and then Diekman whiffing Harper with it was a takeaway moment for me. Diekman has some stuff. In a crapper game like this, it was nice to see the makings (maybe) of some hope for the bullpen.
There were other green shoots. Ruf looked decent at first, though he had a foul ball adventure early. He was great at the plate tonight with a homer, a long rocket to center that was out almost anywhere else in the park, and a walk. Ben Revere made a great catch tonight and had another hit.
The Phillies had chances tonight, but just could not break through with the RISP hit or the two-out hit or the long fly that just didn't go to an alley. Missed chances, but, hey - 2013. Also, the Phillies are 0 - 3 for games I have attended, so just shoot me tonight.
Maybe another "team meeting" is necessary to fix the Phifering. God only knows Lee's performance and the Amaro drama are likely to fuel talk radio this week. Fangraph of just what the Phillies need: