Ted Lilly impresses but still loses

LOS ANGELES -- This is the Ted Lilly the Los Angeles Dodgers thought they were trading for last summer and the one they thought they were re-signing last winter. This is the savvy, crafty, veteran left-hander who doesn't have overpowering stuff and isn't especially good at keeping the ball in the ballpark or preventing baserunners from stealing at will but who always has that ability to make up for it with dominant pitching.

It's just too bad this more-vintage version of Lilly isn't pitching for a more-vintage version of the Dodgers.

The present-day, sad-sack incarnation of this once-revered franchise was hardly a match for baseball's best team Tuesday night, the Dodgers losing 2-1 to Cliff Lee and the Philadelphia Phillies before 46,547 at Dodger Stadium.

It was the second start in a row in which Lilly, after struggling for most of the season to this point, has been just this side of outstanding. It also came within one out of being Lilly's second start in a row in which the Dodgers were shut out.

If you have been paying any attention at all this season, this is the same story you have been reading all year about the Dodgers, whose offense on this night consisted of a golden opportunity in the first inning that passed them by and not much else to speak of until the bottom of the ninth, when Casey Blake's two-out, RBI single averted a shutout.

Funny thing about baseball, though: You can lose with a goose egg, or you can lose with a week's worth of runs, but it all counts the same in the standings.

It all counts the same to Lilly's record, too, which sits at 7-12 following back-to-back losses in which he has given up a total of three runs and 10 hits over 14 innings.

"I'm just trying to stay in line a little bit better," said Lilly, in answer to a question of whether he has changed his mechanics. "By doing that, when I miss, at least I stay in the same lane I was trying to throw it in and I don't miss back over the plate."

Lilly really made only one mistake against the Phillies, and that was assuming Lee, who dominated the Dodgers' weak-ish lineup, was taking with a 2-and-0 count, one out and nobody on base in the top of the seventh inning. So Lilly just threw a fastball over the plate, and Lee, a good-hitting pitcher, rocketed it into the right-field pavilion, giving the Phillies a 2-0 lead.

The other run had come in the third, when Jimmy Rollins hit a weak liner just over the head of first baseman Casey Blake and into shallow right field to get former Dodgers infielder Wilson Valdez, who had led off the inning with a base hit, home from second.

"Teddy threw the ball really good except for that off-the-end flare to Jimmy, the double into right field," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "Then, he just gets behind in the count to Cliff, and he hit a homer. He threw the ball really well all night long. He had command of everything he wanted to do."

The one thing Lilly didn't have command of was the Dodgers' offense, which, typically, got a runner to third with nobody out in the first inning and didn't get him home, middle-of-the-order threats Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp striking out before miscast five-hole hitter Aaron Miles popped up. In fact, for the game, Ethier and Kemp went a combined 1-for-8 with four strikeouts, and Kemp also popped up to end the sixth with a runner on second against Lee (12-7) when it still was just 1-0.

Blake's shutout-breaking single in the ninth was immediately followed by Rod Barajas' game-ending strikeout, sealing Ryan Madson's 21st save.

If Lilly is feeling frustrated by having nothing to show for his efforts -- and if he was, he didn't say so after the game -- he is hardly alone on this Dodgers staff. Hiroki Kuroda's lack of run support this season has been legendary, and the team hasn't exactly opened the throttle for anybody on this pitching staff.

But with the fourth-place Dodgers (52-63) now 11 games behind the division-leading San Francisco Giants in the National League West, they will take anything positive right now, and Lilly's recent performance qualifies. Shoot, the Phillies, a notoriously aggressive team on the basepaths, stole only one base against Lilly, who might even be getting better in that department, as well. He has given up only two steals in his last three starts.

"They still stole a pretty easy base," he said. "I'm definitely making more of a conscious effort, though. Before, I guess I was so focused on executing the pitch, teams took advantage and tried to steal some easy bases. I'm a little bit better at that now."

And if that isn't enough positive news for you, well, consider this: The Phillies are leaving town late Wednesday afternoon. The only problem is, the Dodgers still have to play them one more time before they go.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.