LOS ANGELES — Ryan Howard dropped his black bat. He watched a Paul Maholm slider fly Monday while the Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander screamed curse words. The Phillies won consecutive games for the first time in eight days, and both times, Howard supplied the calming presence.
His two-run blast in the fifth inning of a 7-0 Philadelphia Phillies victory padded Cliff Lee’s advantage. The Phillies scored early against Los Angeles’ fifth starter, watched Lee overwhelm a potent lineup, and could not have devised a better formula for success. They are 9-10.
Lee silenced Dodger Stadium for eight innings in a most dominant manner. He retired 20 straight Dodgers at one point. He struck out 10. He walked none.
For once, his teammates offered support. Ryne Sandberg sat three regulars — Marlon Byrd, Ben Revere and Cody Asche — against the lefthander. He lowered Howard to fifth in the lineup and elevated Carlos Ruiz to the cleanup spot.
Ruiz, who signed a three-year, $26 million deal last winter, entered the day without an RBI in 58 plate appearances. Chris Owings, a light-hitting shortstop for Arizona, was the only player in baseball with more plate appearances (64) and zero RBIs.
The Panamanian catcher, naturally, made his manager look like a genius. Ruiz bashed three extra-base hits and tallied four RBIs. He stroked a two-run double to right in the first inning to open the scoring. He doubled in the third and homered in the ninth. Even when he did not swing, he drew a key two-out walk in the fifth that brought Howard to the plate.
Howard, in his previous at bat, gazed at a Maholm fastball for strike three. He lingered, wondering about the pitch, which caught the outside edge of the plate. When he encountered Maholm in the fifth, he jumped at a first-pitch slider, in almost the same spot as the third-inning fastball.
Howard reached five home runs in his 78th plate appearance, 32 fewer than it took last season. He hit two in two days and has a .906 OPS this season. He is healthy, productive and happy.
There was no need for Lee to finish the game, although he threw 113 pitches and could have done it. But Lee fired 128 pitches in his last start and must pitch again in five days. It was best to save the bullets for another day.
Everything has fallen in Lee’s favor since a forgettable opening day at Texas when he allowed eight runs in five innings. He has a 1.20 ERA in four starts with 37 strikeouts and one walk. He limited the Dodgers to four hits Monday.
Lee opposed a first-place team for the third straight start. He allowed three runs in six innings to Milwaukee, but was lifted when his offense failed to muster any support. He stymied Atlanta for a sublime complete-game victory. He was outstanding in eight innings against a Dodgers team stacked with star hitters.
Los Angeles’ best threat came in the first inning. Yasiel Puig blasted Lee’s first pitch past a diving Howard to start the first inning. He tagged up from there on a deep fly to center. He pushed his boundless talent too far, though, when he tried to score on a bouncer up the middle that Chase Utley backhanded on the grass. Utley, instead of firing to first, threw home to Ruiz, who chased Puig to third and made a diving tag.
The play was reminiscent of Utley’s deke in Game 5 of the 2008 World Series, although he required no trickery this time. Utley just outsmarted Puig. For the next seven innings, Lee handled the rest.
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