PHILADELPHIA -- This is the scenario Phillies fans had imagined the moment Cliff Lee returned to Philadelphia in December.
It would be Roy Halladay in Game 1 and Lee in Game 2.
They would be unstoppable.
But Lee proved human Sunday, wasting an opportunity for the Phils to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five National League Division Series. The NL East champs spotted Lee a four-run lead in the second inning, but he could not make it last in a 5-4 loss to the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. Lee, who was a postseason hero for the Phillies in 2009, allowed a career-high 12 hits and five runs in six-plus innings to send the series to St. Louis tied.
"I take full responsibility," Lee said. "I had a 4-0 lead and I let it slip away."
Lee allowed another run in the sixth to tie the game.
"Anytime you give a starting pitcher a 4-0 lead in the first two innings, he's in a pretty good spot, and that's the situation I was in," Lee said. "I somehow squandered it away."
Lee started the seventh, allowing a leadoff triple to Allen Craig, who scored on Albert Pujols' single to left-center field to give St. Louis a one-run lead.
The ballpark fell silent as the run crossed home plate.
Lee struck out nine, but the Cardinals didn't think he had his normal control. Not that it was an easy night to pitch. Both teams had problems with home-plate umpire Jerry Meals' strike zone. Cards manager Tony La Russa complained about two different strike zones -- one for Lee and one for St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter -- during an in-game interview. The Phillies also had words for Meals as some pitches thrown over the heart of the plate were called balls.
"Whatever," Lee said. "It is what it is. It seemed like both sides were not really with the strike zone, but that's an excuse to me. I'm not going to blame anything on that."
Lee's struggles shocked the largest crowd (46,579) in the park's history. He went 7-1 with a 0.93 ERA in his past 10 regular-season starts before hitting the wall Sunday. And no doubt everybody remembered his postseason heroics in 2009, when he carried Philadelphia to the World Series. Lee was 7-0 with a 1.26 ERA in the first eight postseason starts, but is 0-3 with a 7.13 ERA in his last three starts since last year's World Series.
The Phils certainly felt fine when they took a 4-0 lead in the second. They immediately jumped on Carpenter, who pitched on short rest for the first time in his career. Jimmy Rollins doubled and Carpenter walked Chase Utley and Hunter Pence to load the bases with nobody out in the first. Ryan Howard hit a ball up the middle, which took a crazy bounce off the mound and into center field to score Rollins and Utley to hand the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Ibanez followed two batters later with a single to left field to score Pence to make it 3-0.
Philadelphia took a 4-0 lead in the second when Rollins hit a two-out double, stole third and scored on Pence's single to center field.
"When you've got Cliff out there, you definitely have a great feeling out there," Ibanez said. "But they battled and came back."
The game could not have set up any better for the Phillies. They gave Lee a lead and knocked Carpenter out of the game after just three innings, getting into what is considered the Cards' greatest weakness: their bullpen. But the 'pen retired the first 11 batters it faced before Rollins singled to left field with two outs in the seventh. It would be the only hit St. Louis' bullpen would allow.
"We felt real good about ourselves," Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said.
The Cardinals feel real good about themselves as they return to St. Louis to host Game 3 on Tuesday at 5 p.m. ET. They beat a guy they know doesn't blow many leads.
"It doesn't happen very often," Cards left fielder Lance Berkman said. "But neither does coming from 8 1/2 [games] back with a month to play."
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.