PHILADELPHIA -- As the Phillies' offense sputtered, Roy Halladay suffered a shoulder injury, Cole Hamels piled up losses and the bullpen stumbled time and time again, Cliff Lee had been one of the team's lone bright spots the first half of the season.
His efforts earned him a spot on the National League All-Star team.
But Lee allowed four solo home runs in seven innings Wednesday in a 5-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park to suffer his first loss since May 1 in Cleveland.
The loss snapped his eight-game winning streak, which was the longest active streak in the National League. It also dropped the Phillies to 45-47 and prevented them from winning the four-game series against their National League East rivals. The Phillies can still win the series, but they must beat Washington All-Star Jordan Zimmermann on Thursday in the finale.
"I felt like he was throwing just as good as I've seen him all year," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Lee.
That is what made Wednesday one of the stranger nights. Lee threw just 76 pitches, with a remarkable 64 for strikes.
Lee is always around the strike zone, but he was definitely throwing strikes in bunches Wednesday.
The Nationals were ready.
Nationals second baseman Anthony Rendon hit a 0-2 fastball for a home run to left field to make it 1-0 in the fifth. Two pitches later, Wilson Ramos hit a 1-0 fastball for a homer to right to make it 2-0.
It was the fifth time this season the Nationals had hit back-to-back homers, and they accomplished the feat for the sixth time in the sixth. Ryan Zimmerman ripped a 0-2 fastball to left-center field for a homer to make it 3-0. Jayson Werth followed by hitting a first-pitch cutter to left for a homer to make it 4-0.
Lee had no regrets about his pitch selection or location.
"All four of the home runs were decent pitches," he said. "It was just one of those deals that when it's hot, the ball carries, and you have to do a better job of educing ground balls. But they put some good swings on decent pitches and got them out of here."
Asked if there is such a thing as throwing too many strikes, Lee said, "No, not really. Occasionally, it can look that way. But over the course of the season, if you are throwing strikes, good things are going to happen. It is my job as a starting pitcher to throw strikes and keep the defense on their toes. That's what I did tonight. That's the best I've done in a while. They weren't just strikes, but I thought they were quality strikes. But they got some decent swings on some decent pitches and hit them well enough to get them out of here."
Said Nationals manager Davey Johnson: "He throws that cutter in on them. They got the head out on it. That's what you have to do with him. He pitches a lot inside. He uses his fastball. He goes right after you. I was really pleased with the way they approached him."
Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez kept the Phillies in check. They had a couple excellent opportunities, but came up empty with runners on first and second with no outs in the third and fifth innings.
Darin Ruf hit a solo homer to right with two outs in the seventh to make it 4-1. The Phillies put two runners on after that, but again did not score.
"He was getting a lot of movement on his fastball, throwing his changeup well," Ruf said. "Early in the game, I think he couldn't find his curveball, but later on, he was throwing that very effectively, putting it wherever he wanted. That's what a good pitcher does -- has faith in his pitches and relies on them and keeps throwing it until he does find it and he finally did."
Lee's next start comes after the All-Star break. He finished the first half 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA.
It remains to be seen if he will be pitching for the Phillies following the July 31 Trade Deadline. Lee's name will be a big one as the Deadline approaches, although the Phillies have said publicly they would like to keep him.
"Obviously I'm pretty pleased with the first half," Lee said. "There's not really time for me to sit here and assess what's happened so far. I just want to continue to grind until the very end and throw strikes, and give the team a chance every time I take the field. When the season's over, that's when I'll kind of look back and assess things. Since you asked, it's gone pretty good so far. I'm staying healthy and made all my starts. For the most part, got deep in every game and gave the team a chance. As a starting pitcher, I feel like that's my job."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.