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Big inning dooms Lieber, Phillies

Big inning dooms Lieber, Phillies

PHILADELPHIA -- If only Abraham Nunez started at third.

Clearly, Nunez might have made the tough play that Wes Helms couldn't on Randy Winn's fifth-inning infield single -- allowing the frame to end quietly when the next batter grounded out to first.

Instead, Jon Lieber still had to retire Ryan Klesko, and couldn't, throwing a first pitch that Klesko forcefully returned over the right-field fence for a three-run homer. San Francisco added two more runs that inning and rode to an eventual 8-1 win over the Phillies.

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Nunez watched from the bench as his teammates split the series and ended a 2-5 homestand. Obviously, Monday's loss didn't hinge on a play not made. Lieber could've gotten Klesko to ground his first-pitch heater to first, but in a homestand where little went right for the Phillies, that wasn't going to happen.

If only ...

"This wasn't good for us," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We've drawn good crowds and won two games. It would have been good to win five. It's not good at all. At the same time, we got to play [Tuesday], three games against the Mets. This is a funny game."

Funny and sad for a Phillies team that came to town riding some momentum with a sweep in Atlanta. In the seventh game, the NL's most prolific offense batted a collective .222 and the starting pitchers compiled a 6.18 ERA.

"We have to find a way to create that momentum," said Jamie Moyer, who opens the series against the Mets. "After we do that, we have to find a way to sustain it and maintain it. When it needs to be polished, polish it."

The team can start with its defense, fundamentals and decision making. If only Chase Utley didn't attempt a first-inning bunt after Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino slapped singles against Barry Zito (6-5). Utley said he was trying to make something happen.

"Kinda, sorta," he said, asked if he was bunting for a base hit rather than a sacrifice. "It was a curveball that I tried to put in play. Worse case scenario, you got two guys in scoring position with the middle of your lineup up."

Except with first base open, Zito walked Ryan Howard, despite the lefty-lefty matchup. Jayson Werth flew to shallow right and Aaron Rowand grounded out to Zito, stranding the first two of the Phillies' 12 runners left on base.

Utley whiffed in the exact situation in the third inning, and fans razzed him with "You should've bunted" comments. The Phillies began the first, third, fifth and sixth innings by getting at least their first two hitters on base, yet totaled one run.

"It's a hard one to swallow," said Wes Helms, who went 0-for-3 with a walk to start the sixth. "When you get runners on base, you have to take advantage of that. This is a tough loss, especially for us position players who didn't get the job done."

Lieber didn't the job done either. He followed up a May 29 start in which he allowed 13 hits in 6 2/3 innings by allowing 10 more hits in five innings. He allowed all five of the runs charged to him in the fifth. Yoel Hernandez allowed the other three, with two coming on a home run by Ray Durham.

Lieber didn't talk to reporters after the game, leaving Rod Barajas to identify the problem.

"His slider wasn't as sharp," Barajas said. "With Jon, he really needs that slider. We were throwing in the bullpen before the game and it wasn't that great. We tried different things, we tried different fastballs. It wasn't an easy situation."

Philadelphia was outscored 55-13 on the homestand. They allowed eight or more runs and were limited to seven or fewer hits in four of the seven games. They hit seven homers, while allowing 11.

The offense, which entered the game having scored an NL-leading 288 runs, can be excused for a bad stretch. The starting pitching is another story, especially if the Phillies expect to catch the Mets.

The Phillies' 4.79 ERA is the worst in the NL.

"We've got to improve," Manuel said. "What do you want me to say? We've got to hold them. We've got to improve. We've got the talent. We've got to get consistent. If you have one good, one bad [start], that doesn't come out to good. Every now and then, you're going to get beat up, but consistency is the name of the game and the name of winning the game."

They played consistently in Atlanta, then made it seem so long ago.

"It seems distant," Moyer said. "We've had some long days here. We've had some rain. It just seems like a long time ago."

If only the Phillies hadn't gone 2-5 on the homestand.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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