NEW YORK (AP) — Cliff Lee toed the rubber, went through a full windup and simulated a pitch — toward second base, that is.
Naw, he didn’t do that because the Philadelphia Phillies have been stuck in reverse lately. It’s a quirk of his, something he started in the minors to stay loose and visualize positive results.
Lee struck out 10 while outdueling Cy Young contender R.A. Dickey, and the Phillies regained their winning touch by beating the New York Mets 3-1 Monday night.
“He controlled the game, he was that good,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.
Jimmy Rollins homered with the help of video replay and Domonic Brown also hit a solo shot off Dickey (18-6). The Phillies pulled within 3 1/2 games of idle St. Louis for the second NL wild-card spot, though other clubs are also in their path.
“It was a big win. We’re kind of running out of games,” Lee said. “Three or four teams ahead of us that we’ve got to catch and pass. Definitely not where we want to be.”
Philadelphia had lost three of four at last-place Houston before arriving at Citi Field, where visiting teams have feasted. The Mets have dropped nine of 10 overall, and fell to 4-22 at home since the All-Star break.
“We bounced back tonight,” Manuel said. “You get that kind of pitching, it’s not that hard.”
Lee (6-7) turned in his fifth straight sharp start, winning four of them, and allowed seven hits over eight innings. He was in control, as always, with one walk. He has gone 14 consecutive outings with no more than one free pass.
The 33-year-old lefty trotted to the mound to start his innings, and often was the first Phillies player to take his position. That’s when he’d go through his unusual routine, making phantom pitches toward second base.
“In the minors, I usually was the first person out there and that’s when I started doing it,” he said. “Now, I do it all the time. It’s my thing.”
Lee, who earned his elusive first victory of the season on July 4 at Citi Field, became the latest pitcher to shut down the Mets in their own ballpark. New York has scored three runs or fewer in a team-record 14 straight home games.
“The way that he has been throwing the last month, month and a half, you knew it was probably going to be a tight game,” Dickey said. “The margin of error decreases when he’s pitching.”
Jonathan Papelbon worked the ninth for his 35th save in 39 chances.
Dickey missed a chance to tie Washington’s Gio Gonzalez for the major league lead in wins, and has lost two decisions in a row for the first time this year. Dickey projects to get three more starts this season.
The knuckleballer allowed three runs, two earned, on five hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck out eight — he has 205 this year, one behind NL leader Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers — and lowered his ERA a tad to a league-best 2.67.
Dickey’s signature floater was fluttering from the get-go. His first pitch of the game eluded catcher Mike Nickeas and went to the backstop, and his second pitch sent a swinging Rollins to his knees.
Rollins eventually struck out, but reached on Nickeas’ passed ball. Dickey made a wild toss on his fourth pickoff try to first base and Rollins later scored on Chase Utley’s sacrifice fly.
Rollins hit a drive over right fielder Scott Hairston’s outstretched glove at the top of the wall in the fifth and pulled into third base with an apparent triple. After a brief look at the replay, the umpires waved him to the plate. Rollins has 21 home runs this year, six this month.
Brown led off the seventh with his fourth homer. He tripled earlier.
The Mets nicked Lee in the fifth. Nickeas put down a perfect bunt on the first pitch and the backup catcher hustled for a single. Dickey sacrificed and Daniel Murphy blooped a two-out single for a run.
That was all for Dickey and the Mets.
“You feel for him, because all he’s done is given himself a chance to win a baseball game,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “We’ll go back at the end of the year and recount the number of games where he didn’t get a decision, or he’s allowed us an opportunity to win, and hopefully it doesn’t get back to bite him too bad.”
NOTES: The Phillies are 6-10 against the Mets this year. … Dickey has thrown an NL-high 212 innings this year. He is the first Mets pitcher with 200 strikeouts since Johan Santana in 2008. … The Mets have lost 10 straight series openers at home. … The last team to score three runs or fewer in more consecutive home games than the Mets was Seattle, which went 16 in a row in 2010. … The Mets’ Triple-A affiliate will move from Buffalo to Las Vegas for the next two seasons. Toronto is set to switch its top farm team from Las Vegas to Buffalo. Collins says hitting stats at high altitude in the Pacific Coast League “can be a little deceiving.” … A few rows of temporary seats were added in foul territory, next to the backstop. It’s a test for when Citi Field hosts the All-Star game next year.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)