PHILADELPHIA – Cliff Lee needed five months to get his first home win and now is targeting a far greater accomplishment.
Lee tossed seven sharp innings to earn his first win in Philadelphia in nearly a year and the Phillies completed a three-game sweep against the major league-leading Washington Nationals with a 4-1 victory on Sunday.
The third-place Phillies aren't going to win their sixth straight NL East title, but they were determined to make a statement against the Nationals. It was just the second three-game sweep of the season for Philadelphia, which closed within six games of .500 for the first time since losing to Pittsburgh on June 28.
The Phillies are 9½ games behind St. Louis in the standings for the second wild card. It would take quite a monumental comeback for the Phillies to make up that ground in the final 34 games. Then again, the Cardinals overcame a 10½-game deficit on Aug. 25 last year and won the World Series.
"Crazier things have happened," Lee said. "All we can do is try to win each day. For the most part, we underperformed a majority of the first half. We've only recently started to play the way we should have. It's not a surprise to us."
Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run homer and Laynce Nix had a solo shot to back Lee (3-7). The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner hadn't won at Citizens Bank Park since September 5, going 0-6 in his previous 12 starts.
Lee outpitched Jordan Zimmermann (9-8) by allowing one run and seven hits. Jeremy Horst got an out in the eighth and Josh Lindblom got the last five outs for his first career save. Jonathan Papelbon had the day off after closing three straight games.
"Since I came over, I've struggled mechanically," said Lindblom, who was acquired in the trade that sent two-time All-Star Shane Victorino to the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I think I've tried to maybe justify this trade and try to do more than I'm capable of instead of just being myself."
Zimmermann gave up three runs and five hits in five innings. His ERA went up to 2.63, third-best in the NL.
The Nationals have dropped four straight for the first time since June 15-19. They entered with a 5½-game lead over Atlanta.
The loss left the Nationals in a testy mood. Manager Davey Johnson was heard screaming at someone in the clubhouse, sarcastically suggesting that person "come down here" and run the team. General manager Mike Rizzo was seen entering the clubhouse after the game, and presumably engaged in the heated conversation with Johnson.
"I had a discussion with my boss and I apologize to you guys," Johnson said, explaining why reporters had to wait nearly 25 minutes before entering his office.
Johnson didn't say more about the confrontation, and Rizzo wasn't immediately available to comment.
Hurt by poor run support often this year, Lee got the offense going with an RBI double in the fifth. Kevin Frandsen singled to start the inning and advanced to second on a passed ball by Jesus Flores. Erik Kratz followed with a looper to center, but Bryce Harper made a sliding catch.
Lee, who hits well for a pitcher, then ripped one to deep center over Harper's head, scoring Frandsen for a 1-0 lead.
"I expect that if I get a pitch over the plate that I should hit it," Lee said. "But at the same time, I am a pitcher and anything I can do that is positive is a bonus. Personally, I expect to put up a competitive at-bat every time I go to the plate."
Rollins followed with a drive to the seats in right. The leadoff hitter has 15 homers, just three shy from taking the team lead away from the since-traded Hunter Pence.
Nix connected on an 0-2 pitch off Tom Gorzelanny in the sixth.
The Nationals touched Lee in the seventh, but ran themselves out of a bigger inning. Jayson Werth led off with an infield single and advanced to second on Lee's throwing error. Adam LaRoche followed with a towering shot to right that bounced off the top of the railing and back in play. Werth and LaRoche thought the ball went out and started jogging. LaRoche was tagged out between second and third while Werth stayed at third on the double. A video replay upheld the call.
Tyler Moore then lined an RBI double to left to cut it to 4-1.
NOTES: Phillies LF Juan Pierre stole his 586th base in the fifth, tying Maury Wills for 19th on the career list. ... The Phillies are 8-15 in Lee's 23 starts. They were 22-10 when he started last season. ... OF Domonic Brown wasn't in Philadelphia's starting lineup for the second straight game because of a sore left knee. ... Vance Worley (6-9, 4.06 ERA) pitches Tuesday night for the Phillies vs. the Mets.