Pink was the color of Phils' effort

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Chase Utley is down-and-out at second base after he was tagged for game's final out.

IT WAS Mother's Day, with pink bats and wristbands and ribbons on their jerseys.

It was a game only their mothers could love.

The Phillies logged a sloppy effort in a 4-1 loss. They weren't going to win playing this messily.

Not even against the flailing, enigmatic Cubs, with Alfonso Soriano nursing a sore hamstring and Derrek Lee exiting after the first inning with neck spasms that nearly kept him from starting.

And not against lefty Ted Lilly, whose effective effort they generally disparaged.

It was their first loss in four games, but, with a great start from Jon Lieber, it was bitter nonetheless.

"It would have been nice to get the sweep and win four in a row," shortstop Jimmy Rollins said, "especially with a good team like Milwaukee coming in."

They played too poorly for that to happen.

Third baseman Abraham Nunez committed two errors, one of which led to a run. Relievers Antonio Alfonseca and Fabio Castro issued key, ninth-inning walks.

Second baseman Chase Utley bobbled a doubleplay ball in the ninth, costing the Phils a run, and got thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double for the last out . . . of a 4-1 game.

Soriano, who last year led the National League in outfield assists, easily nailed Utley, who stayed there, on all fours, head down, for nearly a minute.

"Probably not the best decision," Utley said. "You can never really afford to make mistakes. Sometimes you get away with them. Sometimes, you don't."

Yesterday, they didn't.

That, and Lilly's pitching, saved the Cubs from a sweep.

At least, it seemed Lilly (3-2) pitched well, with his eight innings, three hits, one walk and six strikeouts, numbers that Lieber (1-2) nearly matched despite pitching with a cut on his right middle finger that pushed his start back 2 days.

Lilly's earned run average dropped to 2.53, but the Phillies didn't think it should have.

"There was one pitch we couldn't hit today: the fastball down the middle," said Rollins, hitless in his four tries. "The truth is the truth. Sometimes pitchers have good stuff and you can't beat them."

"It was one of those days," Nunez agreed. "He got away with throwing balls down the middle. It was his day today."

It certainly wasn't Nunez'.

He got two hits off Lilly but he didn't flash his usually sweet glove.

Nunez missed a backhand try on speedy Cesar Izturis' two-hop chopper in the third, extending the inning by perhaps two batters.

"That was a do-or-die play," Nunez said.

His short throw to first base on Aramis Ramirez' grounder in the fourth wouldn't have kept Daryle Ward from scoring - Ward led off with a double - but certainly it meant Ramirez wouldn't have scored.

"The second one, I rushed myself a little bit," Nunez said.

Lilly needed nothing more. He allowed two baserunners through seven innings on a walk and a single.

The Phillies scratched for a run in the eighth, begun by Wes Helms' single and Nunez' second hit of the day. Carlos Ruiz then lined out to Ramirez, who tried to double off Nunez at first, threw wild and allowed pinch-runner Michael Bourn to score.

That's all they got. With their bullpen, they needed more.

Alfonseca relieved Lieber to start the ninth and continued his hellish stretch.

He had an 0.75 ERA through his first 11 outings; he has a 13.50 ERA in eight outings since.

He allowed two singles and a one-out, four-pitch walk to load the bases in the ninth. Lefthander Castro relieved him to face Ward, also a lefty; but Cubs manager Lou Piniella sent up righthanded pinch-hitter Mark DeRosa. Castro was pitching in his third game of the season and his 23rd major league game overall.

Castro walked DeRosa on four pitches.

"Alfonseca's having his problems right now," manager Charlie Manuel said, and chalked Castro's performance up to inexperience.

Clay Condrey entered and got a doubleplay ball up the middle that Rollins flipped to Utley - who bobbled the relay, allowing another run to score.

Of Utley, and of Nunez, Manuel explained, "There's nobody perfect."

They didn't need to be perfect. Just better. *