Phils come up short against Astros

Posted: July 03, 2007

HOUSTON - The highest-scoring team in the National League against a starting pitcher with a 5.58 ERA.

Now this was a matchup that figured to taste as good as mama's home cooking for a Phillies team coming off a weekend series in which it had lost three of four to the New York Mets.

As it turned out, though, the outcome tonight was about as pleasing as a chicken bone in the throat.

Yeah, the Phillies did make it interesting at the end, when they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, scored two runs, and had the go-ahead run at the plate.

But when Jimmy Rollins' fly landed in rookie centerfielder Hunter Pence's glove, the Phillies had absorbed a 7-5 loss to the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park and missed a chance to pick up a game on the Mets, who were beaten in Colorado.

Woody Williams, the guy with the unsightly ERA, had an easy time against the Phils, who lead the league with 427 runs but have been outscored by 11. The righthander limited them to three runs over seven innings - a run in the first and solo home runs in the second and sixth. The highest-scoring team in the league needs to do better than that against a second-tier pitcher. It's especially important for the Phils, whose own pitching staff sports the worst ERA in the league.

Williams (4-10) struck out just one in his first win against the Phils since August 2000.

"He got ahead in the count, and we chased some balls," manager Charlie Manuel said. "He stayed around and did a good job."

Phils starter Jamie Moyer allowed nine hits and four runs over six innings. He failed to protect two early one-run leads. Moyer did not have his best game, partly because home-plate umpire Brian Knight called the outside corner very tightly. That prevented Moyer from employing a favorite strategy of inching his change-up off the plate against righthanded hitters.

"They sensed it," Moyer said of the Houston hitters, adding that Knight's strike zone was consistent all game. "It forced me to throw more pitches early in the game, more deeper counts, hence only six innings."

Moyer did keep the game close. He left trailing by 4-3. The bullpen made a comeback difficult by giving up three killer runs late in the game. Two of them came on bases-loaded walks in the seventh, one by Brian Sanches and one by Jose Mesa, and the third on a mammoth home run that Mesa served up to Carlos Lee in the eighth.

Those runs stung when the Phillies loaded the bases and scored two on Carlos Ruiz's double against Dan Wheeler in the ninth. Trever Miller was finally summoned for the save, and he got it by retiring Rollins with men on second and third.

The game marked the latest matchup of 40-and-over pitchers in the majors. Moyer is 44; Williams is 40. Previously this season, Moyer had twice faced Tom Glavine (41) and Randy Johnson (43).

But the pitchers weren't the only elder statesmen in this game. Craig Biggio, the Astros' 41-year-old second baseman and baseball's newest 3,000-hits man, was a major nuisance for Moyer.

The Phils gave Moyer a 1-0 lead in the first, but the Astros quickly tied it in the bottom of the inning when Biggio led off with a double, his 3,005th hit, and scored on Lee's two-out single.

Pat Burrell gave the Phils a 2-1 lead with a solo homer in the second, but the Astros came back and tied it on Lance Berkman's RBI double in the third.

Biggio opened the bottom of the fifth with his second double (660th overall). Six pitches later, Pence lined a full-count homer off the left-field foul pole, giving the Astros a 4-2 lead. The Phils cut the lead to 4-3 on rightfielder Shane Victorino's 10th homer in the sixth.

In the seventh, Sanches faced six batters and allowed a single and three walks.

"I put myself in a jam I shouldn't have been in," he said. "Walks are unacceptable."

One pitch before Sanches walked in the Astros' fifth run, Victorino daringly dived into the stands chasing a foul off the bat of Eric Bruntlett. Victorino didn't make the catch. He landed hard on his ribs but later said it was nothing an ice pack couldn't handle.

"I thought I could make a play on the ball, so I left my feet," Victorino said. "If I catch it, it's a 4-3 game."

Victorino returned to his position and watched Sanches walk Bruntlett with the bases loaded. Mesa came on and walked in another run.

Nice bullpen.


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury

at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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