The Phillies were shut out by five Houston pitchers, four of whom wore uniform numbers in the 60s and began 2012 at triple A. A Phillies offense that crushed this dilapidated team with 12 runs on 16 hits a night earlier was rendered comatose. The best the Phillies can do is split this four-game series against a putrid ball club that avoided losing its 100th game.
"You know what?" manager Charlie Manuel said. "That was unreal."
The manager leaned back in his leather chair and yanked off his red hat. "Phew," Manuel said, and he shook his head.
Despite the loss, the Phillies stayed three games back of the second wild card as the Dodgers defeated the Cardinals late Saturday. There are 16 games remaining.
It figures the Astros are the ones to cast serious doubt upon a city's fading hopes. Houston is the only National League squad with a winning record (34-23) against the Phillies since 2004. They move to the American League next season, and the Phillies will celebrate.
The Phillies stranded 12 runners and hit 0 for 10 with men in scoring position. They had a baserunner in every inning. They were silenced by Dallas Keuchel, a junk-balling lefty who won for the first time in 84 days.
In a word, it was embarrassing.
"The bottom line is you have to play better than that," Manuel said. "They outplayed us. The bottom line was they actually outplayed us. They deserved to win the game. They totally outplayed us."
Manuel has lamented his lineup's lack of balance ever since deadline trades removed righthanded bats Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino. But the Phillies were 9-3 against lefty starters since July 31.
Then they met Keuchel, probably the most unassuming pitcher yet. He was winless since June 23; his last 10 starts resulted in a 6.93 ERA and seven losses. He had never pitched a scoreless outing.
In 51/3 innings, Keuchel threw 48 strikes and 47 balls. He stranded eight Phillies with a fastball that rarely topped 87 m.p.h. The bases were left loaded in both the first and fourth innings.
"Just making them uncomfortable," Keuchel said.
Real promise for the Phillies manifested in the fourth until Kevin Frandsen swung his bat. Keuchel had thrown five straight balls out of the strike zone. Frandsen hacked at a 2-0 fastball and chopped it at Keuchel. The 24-year-old pitcher hopped to snare it for an easy third out.
The mistakes were innumerable. Jimmy Rollins led off the game with a single and stole two bases. On third with one out, he was stranded.
"It looked like we were off and flying," Manuel said. "All of a sudden we don't start executing."
The pitching tripped, too. Kyle Kendrick allowed more than two runs for the first time in six starts. He lasted only five innings, was charged with four runs, and routinely fell behind hitters. The fourth batter he faced, Justin Maxwell, laced a 3-2 change-up into the short left-field porch for a two-run homer.
"It's tough to lose to a team like this," Kendrick said.
There was no Phillies comeback on this night. For the fans who responded to the postseason ticket offer Saturday with faith, it could be a harsh tease.
Contact Matt Gelb at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @magelb