PHILADELPHIA -- This has to stop.
Since the National League started to track earned runs in 1912 -- Grover Cleveland Alexander's sophomore season in Philadelphia -- no Phillies pitcher has been winless with a 3.00 ERA or better after his first nine starts in a season until Cliff Lee in 2012.
Maybe it's bad luck.
"Who knows?" Lee said following Tuesday's demoralizing 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. "If we're relying on luck, we're relying on the wrong things. It's more about executing and playing fundamentally sound baseball. If we do that consistently, we'll win consistently. I don't think we're relying on luck or bad luck or anything of that. That's bogus to me. When you get lucky that's good, but you can't rely on that."
If not luck, then the odds figured to slant heavily in Lee's favor Tuesday.
He has to win eventually.
But the game repeated a familiar theme from Lee's previous starts. He pitched well and the offense let him down, having scored just 16 runs for him while he has been in the game this season. As a result, the Phillies have lost four consecutive games and fell to 28-29, the first time they have been under .500 since May 23.
"There's nothing I can do about it," Lee said. "That's something that's kind of out of my control. All I can do is go out there and make pitches and try to put up as many zeros as I can. ... I'm going to do that whether we're winning by 12 runs or whether it's a tie game or whatever. I try not to worry too much about that."
Lee (0-3, 2.92 ERA) allowed six hits, two runs, one walk and struck out 12 in 7 2/3 innings. He allowed just two hits through seven scoreless innings, carrying a 1-0 lead into the eighth.
Lee allowed a leadoff double to Matt Treanor in the eighth, but Treanor was thrown out at third when Lee fielded Tony Gwynn Jr.'s attempted sacrifice bunt and fired a strike to get him. Gwynn was then thrown out at third by Hunter Pence when trying to move from first to third on a single by Bobby Abreu for the second out.
Lee was pumped.
He needed just one more out.
"He had a beautiful game going," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "But what happens is you sit there and it only takes one swing of the bat to beat you when you let them stay around like that."
Dee Gordon singled to put runners on first and second, and then Elian Herrera hit a 2-2 curveball -- the 122nd pitch of Lee's night -- to left field for a double to clear the bases. It looked like Phillies left fielder Juan Pierre could have caught the ball at the wall, but he might have leaped just a second early and couldn't make the play.
"It was a catchable ball," Pierre said. "I should have caught the ball. Cliff pitched such a good game tonight, and not to make the play behind him stinks. You've got to make a play and I didn't, so you can hang this one on me."
How about hanging it on the offense?
"Well, I didn't do too much on that side, either," said Pierre, who went 0-for-4.
Jimmy Rollins doubled and scored on Pence's single to left field in the first inning to hand the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Manuel said he thought the Phillies were going to score some runs against Dodgers right-hander Chad Billingsley, but it never happened. In fact, the Phillies did not have a baserunner reach second base after the fifth inning.
"When Cliff throws a game like that," said Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, "our guy's got to throw right with him. That's what happened. Bills gave us a chance, and we got a big hit."
What else can Lee do at this point, short of hitting a couple of home runs in his own starts?
"I guess he can throw a no-hitter and not give up anything," Manuel said. "I guess he could do that."
Lee insisted he is not ready to take one of the bats from his locker and put a hole in the wall from frustration.
"I'm not really frustrated," he said. "I'm not. All I can do is throw pitches. I don't set goals -- am I going to have this many wins or whatever. I just put up as many zeros as I can, get deep in the game, throw strikes, don't walk guys, give the team a chance to win. That's all I can do, and that's what I'm going to continue to try to do. Would I like to have a better record or like to have had some wins? Yeah. But what can I do about that?"
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.