"He didn't make the play," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He makes the play, he's out of the inning."
It was that simple. Lieber, sputtering along with an 4-8 record and desperately searching for a breakthrough game, had just what he was looking for at Shea Stadium on Saturday.
And then the Phillies right-hander (4-9) threw it all away.
"He has trouble," Manuel said when asked about Lieber's defense. "Lieber had trouble. He knows it."
"A little play like that can cost you a ballgame," Lieber said. "I take a lot of pride in my fielding. I just haven't been good the last few years. I've got to make that play. I'm trying to get off the mound quick. Just everything is rushing, but the bottom line is I've got to make that play.
"That cost us the game."
Lieber retired 17 Mets in succession after the first three New York batters hit safely to produce a run in the first inning. None of hits were hard smashes.
The Phillies scored three runs off left-hander Tom Glavine (12-4) in the top of the first inning on a one-out walk by Aaron Rowand, a single by Jimmy Rollins and a home run to left field by Ryan Howard, the only left-handed batter in the Phillies' starting lineup.
Only three Mets hit the ball hard off Lieber up to the point Carlos Beltran, who had singled for New York's third hit in the first inning, nubbed a two-out roller up the first-base line after two were out in the sixth. Lieber rushed off the mound, scooped up the ball and tossed it wide right of Howard at first base.
"It was cutting away," Howard said. "He has kind of a different angle on his arm. So when it comes out, you try to react to where it is. It just kind of got away."
Carlos Delgado advanced Beltran to third with a first-pitch single to center. David Wright, on a 1-0 pitch, hit a pop fly to left. Left fielder Pat Burrell took a step back, then ran in toward the fly before pulling up as Rollins raced out from his position at shortstop. The ball dropped in for a single, and Beltran scored and Delgado reached third. Endy Chavez lashed a first-pitch two-run double to left-center to give the Mets a 4-3 lead.
"The ball went up, I didn't get a good break on it," Burrell said. "I kind of got in no-man's land there, where I didn't think I was going to be able to make a play. The ball was up in the air too long. It has got to be caught."
Burrell said the sun, which can cause problems here in day games, wasn't a factor.
"The ball went up, I didn't get a good break on it," Burrell said. "I kind of got in no man's land there where I didn't think I was going to be able to make a play. The ball was up in the air too long. It has got to be caught."
Burrell indicated he pulled up at the last instant because he saw Rollins coming out hard and thought that by making the initial bad break that he lost his opportunity to make a catch.
"It [stinks]," Lieber said of his good effort gone awry. "These guys have been busting their tails in here. I haven't contributed the whole year. When you make a bonehead play like that, it's embarrassing."
While the Phillies had only three more hits off Glavine, who pitched seven innings, after Howard slugged his 38th home run to bring his RBI total for the season to 99, the visitors had a shot to at least tie the game against their former teammate and current Mets closer Billy Wagner in the ninth.
Howard led off with a single. Two strikeouts later, Chase Utley, who didn't start after his 35-game hitting streak ended on Friday, delivered a pinch-hit single to right that sent Howard to third. Pinch-hitter Mike Lieberthal hit a hot shot down the third-base line. Wright, who was guarding the line, speared the ball while reaching right and threw a bullet to first for the final out of the game.
Would Lieber be able to sleep after such a heartbreaker?
"I sleep all the time," Lieber said, pausing. "If I didn't, I'd be in trouble."