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Lee dazzles, throws eight shutout frames vs. Braves

ATLANTA -- Manager Charlie Manuel stated the obvious on Thursday when he said that it's easier to head home 1-2 than 0-3.

Then he cracked the slightest hint of a grin.

"We've got hope now," Manuel said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

The Phillies had started 0-2 four times in the previous seven seasons, including 2007, 2008 and 2009. They finished each of those seasons with National League East championships, winning two NL pennants and one World Series in that span. Of course, those finishes mean nothing in regard to their finish in 2013, but they should have offered a little perspective (and a little relief) to fans back in Philadelphia.

But any anxiety would have only intensified had they lost on Thursday. Everybody in the clubhouse knew that. Fortunately for them, left-hander Cliff Lee pitched like an ace in frigid conditions.

Lee, who had the fourth-worst run support of any pitcher in baseball last season, did not get the geyser of help he probably dreamed about during the offseason, but he got just enough as he dazzled over eight scoreless innings.

He allowed two hits and struck out eight in a masterful performance for a team in desperate need of one.

Oh, he also got the win.

"Last year I got the first win on the Fourth of July," Lee said. "It's nice to get it out of the way on the first one, no doubt."

The heart of the Braves' lineup, which torched Cole Hamels on Monday and Roy Halladay on Wednesday, barely made a peep against Lee. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman entered the night a combined .429 with four home runs and 11 RBIs but went 1-for-9 against Lee.

"In a tough night to pitch and a tough night to play a baseball game, he sure made it look pretty easy," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He commanded all of his pitches and got to the eighth inning with really no problem."

"They got an early lead and he went out there, settled in and did what good pitchers do," Heyward said.

The Phillies gave Lee some room to breathe early, scoring twice in the second inning to take the lead -- their first lead of the season.

Laynce Nix singled to center and Erik Kratz doubled to left. Braves right-hander Kris Medlen walked Lee to load the bases, the second time the Phillies had the bases loaded in as many innings. Ben Revere hit a ground ball to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who flipped the ball to second baseman Dan Uggla for the first out, but Uggla could not make the throw to first, giving the Phillies an extra out, and Nix scored to make it 1-0.

Jimmy Rollins walked to reload the bases and Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly, scoring Kratz and making it 2-0.

Lee handled everything from there.

"It seemed to me the last three innings he got even better," Manuel said. "He was clicking. Good tempo. Good rhythm. He was in sync. He used his pitches, man. That's a typical Cliff Lee game."

Lee could not disagree.

"The first couple of innings, they battled pretty good," Lee said. "I threw 40-some pitches in the first two innings. They forced me to throw more pitches. I got into some deep counts and fouled off some balls. To get eight innings after the first two innings, I was pleased with that. I felt strong the whole time. I was just throwing strikes, getting ahead in the count, make them swing their way on base and let the defense make plays."

Nobody on the Phillies would have panicked had they lost on Thursday. It is not their style. They started 4-11 in 2007, only to clinch the division on the final day of the season. But this victory allowed them to feel a little better about themselves heading into Friday's home opener, against the Royals.

Instead of trying to snap a losing streak, they can work on building a winning streak.

"It's still way early," Lee said. "Obviously, we would have liked to have won all three. ... The first two are behind us. We're just trying to get a win under our belt and fortunately, we were able to do that. Hopefully, we can carry that into Philly and keep the momentum going."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for
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