PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies lost more than a game Tuesday night.

They frittered away an opportunity.

The Pittsburgh Pirates beat Philadelphia 2-0 before 31,002 fans on a wintery night at Citizens Bank Park. The loss ended the Phillies modest two-game winning streak. Phillies starter Cole Hamels pitched well but allowed two runs in eight innings for the loss.

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Regular season baseball games tend to blend together. That’s the byproduct of a 162-game season.

But certain contests can be pivotal and Tuesday was one those even though the season is three weeks old.

The Phillies entered the season having won two straight and three of their last four contests.

They won Sunday night with No. 4 starting pitcher Kyle Kendrick on the mound. They won Monday night with fill-in starting pitcher and rookie Jonathan Pettibone.

With Hamels pitching Tuesday and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee scheduled to pitch today and Thursday, respectively, this was the Phillies chance to put a winning streak together.

Hamels, who had struggled in his first four starts, finally pitched like the ace he’s supposed to be. He struck out six and gave up seven hits in eight innings.

Hamels allowed an RBI double to Brandon Inge in the fourth inning and one-out home run to Gaby Sanchez in the 8th. Sanchez hit a 2-0 pitch into the first few rows of the right field stands.

But as good as Hamels was, unknown Pirates starter Jeff Locke was better.

Locke made just his 14th career start. He had allowed at least four runs in two of his three starts this season. The 25-year-old began the game with a 2-7 career record and a 5.67 career ERA.

But all that is meaningless. The only thing that mattered is that Locke is left handed and these days the Phillies make nearly every left-handed pitcher look like Sandy Koufax.

Locke allowed just two hits and struck out six. Locke struck Ryan Howard out swinging twice. Howard is 2-for-18 with 10 strikeouts against left-handers this season.

The Phillies are batting .182 (24-for-132) against left handers with just 10 runs scored.

Philadelphia had a chance to rally Tuesday. The Phillies put two runners on base in the eighth inning. Howard came up with two outs against right-handed reliever Tony Watson. But Howard grounded to first base to end the inning.

A win would have brought the Phillies to within a game of .500.

Instead the Phillies (9-12) continue to meander their way through the season and again gave no credible evident that they can be a playoff contender.

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