NEW YORK - There have been few highlights for the New York Mets during the stretch run of another disappointing season, except for R.A. Dickey's final opportunities to reach the 20-win mark and, perhaps, earn a Cy Young award.
But Dickey has continued to insist that is not his focus and that he will not do anything to "manipulate" his chances if he thinks it won't help his team win. Instead, he said, he takes to heart the somber stares that pile up around his clubhouse with the losses, determined to change the mood on the days he pitches.
That he could not do so in the Mets' 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday night was "tough," he said.
When a run scored thanks largely to a passed ball on a strikeout and his own throwing error in the first inning, Dickey said he thought, "Don't give 'em any more, for sure."
He barely did, but the Mets have had trouble scoring runs lately, and Phillies starter Cliff Lee has had no problem keeping teams from doing so.
So the Mets' knuckleballer lowered his ERA but lost a chance to move closer to the 20-win mark, while the Phillies capitalized on an opportunity to inch closer to the second wild card spot.
Domonic Brown and Jimmy Rollins homered, and Rollins scored another run on a sacrifice fly after reaching on the passed ball in the first, as the Phillies won their 10th game in their last 14. The Mets lost their ninth in their last 10, including seven straight at Citi Field, where they have just four wins since the All-Star break.
"It's unfulfilling. I'm not leaving the park satisfied, that's for sure," Dickey said. "Especially the way we've been playing, I feel like the team looks to me to try to right the ship. To not be able to do that, I take that very seriously. And tonight was a tough one in that regard.
"The way that he's been throwing the last month, month-and-half, you knew it was going to be a tight game," Dickey said of Lee, who won his fourth straight decision. "The margin of error decreases, when he's pitching, for the other pitcher. And tonight that was the case."
The win moved the Phillies within 3 1/2 games of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card spot, following a lost series at Houston, where the Phillies dropped three of four.
"They won three out of four games, so coming in here we're just trying to get a win and we did that tonight," said Brown, who also tripled. "Cliff Lee pitched great, we played pretty great defense behind him and scored runs when we needed to."
Dickey entered the night leading the NL in ERA at 2.68 and lowered it to 2.67, after allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits in seven innings. Dickey (18-6) struck out eight and only walked two, making few mistakes other than the homers, but remained behind Gio Gonzalez (19-8) for the league lead in wins.
But Lee (6-7) allowed just one run on seven hits in eight innings, striking out 10 and walking one. Lee, who was winless this season until beating the Mets on July 4, has won his last four decisions, allowing four earned runs in 35 1/3 innings in that span.
Jonathan Papelbon pitched a perfect ninth for his 35th save of the year.
"I feel like I'm the same guy, trying to do the same things," Lee said of his recent success. "For whatever reason, early in the season, I wasn't getting many breaks. Things weren't going my way. One thing is, I gave up quite a bit of homers early on, so eliminating that was big."
With the Phillies up 2-1 in the seventh, Brown hit his fourth homer of the season to score their final run.
For Dickey, time is running out on his shot at 20 wins as he has three regularly scheduled starts remaining. His Cy Young candidacy could come down to how much value the voters place on wins vs. other stats.
But, when Mets manager Terry Collins offered Dickey a chance to stay in the game in the bottom of the seventh to hit with two outs and no one on against Lee, Dickey declined. Instead, catcher Kelly Shoppach singled in his place, Ruben Tejada walked and the Mets had the go-ahead run at the plate in Dickey's last chance of the night for a win.
But Daniel Murphy, who had driven in the Mets' only run in the fifth with a two-out single, lined softly to second to end the inning.
"He's so kind to ask me," Dickey said of Collins. "But I want to win the game. And sending me up there against Cliff Lee is not the best opportunity to win the game, and I get that.
"I'm not going to do anything that would subtract from our ability to win a game, and that's the way I believe it should be done," he added. "It just doesn't feel right to me."
Rollins gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead in the fifth with a one-out homer to right. The ball went just over the glove of a leaping Scott Hairston and over the orange line, hitting off the black before bouncing back onto the field. Initially called a triple, the umps changed the call to home run after a replay review.
NOTES: The Mets agreed to a two-year deal to make the Las Vegas 51s their Class AAA minor league affiliate, the organization announced Monday. The Mets' former Class AAA affiliate, Buffalo, decided to part ways with the organization. ... Mets manager Terry Collins initially had planned to start Shoppach at catcher against Lee, but with knuckleballer Dickey competing for the NL Cy Young award, Shoppach told Collins it might be better to have Dickey throw to a more familiar batterymate. Mike Nickeas started instead, but his passed ball in the first led to a run. ... Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz was in the lineup Monday, marking the first time he'd started two straight games since returning from the DL on Sept. 7.