PHILADELPHIA -- This must have seemed awkward. When's the last time a pitcher received a warm ovation running in to the dugout after blowing a four-run lead, starting an inning off by allowing a triple and back-to-back singles, the former a go-ahead liner just over the glove of the leaping shortstop?
Philadelphia fell head over heels for Cliff Lee in 2009, when he was acquired in a midseason trade and led the Phillies to their second consecutive World Series berth. In five postseason starts that year, Lee was 4-0 with a 1.56 ERA, including 33 strikeouts and six walks. He was traded to Seattle that December in a deal that brought Roy Halladay to the Phils, and after another trade sent Lee to Texas, an entire city watched as its hero pitched the Rangers into the World Series last year.
Since reaching the 2010 Fall Classic with Texas, Lee has not seen much success in the postseason. In his past three postseason starts, Lee is 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA. He went 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his first eight postseason starts.
Lee tied a career high with 12 hits allowed in Sunday night's 5-4 loss to the Cardinals in Game 2 of the National League Division Series. Three Cards reached base in the first three innings before Lee ran into trouble in the fourth, when five of the seven batters he faced got aboard, leading to three runs and nearly a fourth if Raul Ibanez had not accurately fired a throw home and catcher Carlos Ruiz not absorbed a blow to the mask and hung onto the ball as Jon Jay barreled into him.
Jay drove in the tying run in the sixth when Ryan Theriot slid under a high throw from Ibanez. Allen Craig's leadoff triple in the seventh resulted in the go-ahead run on a single by Albert Pujols.
How could this happen?
"I take full responsibility," Lee said. "Anytime you give a starting pitcher a four-run lead in the first two innings, he's in a pretty good spot."
"They hit some pitches," he added. "They got 12 hits. Any time they do that, they're hitting good pitches, they're hitting bad pitches, they're hitting. You've got to give their offense some credit. At the same time, I had a four-run lead that early in the game, I feel like I should win the game."
More than a few of those hits caught just enough lumber to find areas of the field no fielder can reach. Others simply found holes in the defense. But opposing Nos. 7-9 hitters hit .178 (45-for-253) against Lee this season, and the Cards' bottom three hitters were 5-for-10 against him Sunday, knocking in three of the five runs.
"He's always tough, doesn't matter," Cardinals outfielder Lance Berkman said. "He could underhand it up there and he's got good stuff. But certainly, and I'm sure he would say the same, he's been sharper in the past."
Lee has now put Philadelphia in a bit of a quandary. The Phillies could've had a 2-0 stranglehold on the best-of-five series as they head to St. Louis. Now, it's uncertain if Lee will throw another pitch in 2011.
Nate Mink is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.