Weak end to Phillies' weekend

Carlos Ruiz grounds out, reliever Wilton Lopez celebrates the Astros' win, and the Phillies' wild-card hopes get a little slimmer.
Carlos Ruiz grounds out, reliever Wilton Lopez celebrates the Astros' win, and the Phillies' wild-card hopes get a little slimmer. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: September 17, 2012

HOUSTON - As Charlie Manuel admitted after the first loss of a forgettable extended weekend in Houston, baseball's law of averages meant that reeling off four straight wins at Minute Maid Park would be a tough task.

The Phils roared into town having won a season-high seven straight, including back-to-back sweeps of last-place teams. The first loss to the Astros, another last-place team, wasn't altogether surprising; it was almost expected.

But losing two of four games at the hands of the worst team in baseball would be considered a defeat. Losing three of four would be a disaster, since it would also suck out all of the momentum they had coming into town, right?

"Why should it be deflating?" Jimmy Rollins countered after Sunday's 7-6 loss capped a 1-3 trip to Minute Maid Park. "We lose games. It doesn't matter the name on the jersey. We lose. We just don't have any more room to lose . . . There is no margin for error when you're at .500, period."

For the first time since last Monday, the Phils (73-74) are back below .500 and no longer riding the high of an unexpected climb into wild-card contention.

Armed with a one-run lead in the seventh inning, the bullpen blew up for the second time in 4 days. After Michael Martinez threw a ball away and Antonio Bastardo walked a batter, Phillippe Aumont entered and served up back-to-back two-run hits as Houston rallied for a come-from-behind win.

The Astros, who are one loss away from consecutive 100-loss seasons and have averaged more than 93 losses in each of the last 4 years, are 15-12 against the Phillies since the beginning of the 2009 season.

The Phils are 18-27 at Minute Maid Park, a house of horrors that, thankfully for Charlie Manuel and Co., becomes an American League venue in 2013.

"It's hard to explain," Manuel said. "We come in here and of course we didn't think we were going to get beat. We thought we were going to win the series. But they always play us good here. If you go back and look ever since I've been managing here, they've played us good. And then on top of that, if you look at it, they deserved to win the games they won. They did it. They did it when it counted and we didn't."

For the 16th time this season and second time in the series, the Phillies had a lead after six innings and lost. But a young and inconsistent bullpen wasn't the only culprit in Houston.

The Phils went 6-for-31 with runners in scoring position in their three losses in Houston.

"We had a chance to win," said starter Roy Halladay, who gave up three runs (on two homers) in six innings. "We had a couple of chances. But we came up short."

The Phils were also a bit unlucky. A seventh inning that would end up turning the game in the Astros' favor actually began with the Phillies primed to add to their 4-3 lead.

Two innings after Ryan Howard hit a two-out, two-run double to turn a 2-2 tie into a 4-2 lead, Martinez led off then seventh with a double. Two outs and two batters later, Ty Wigginton was hit by a pitch.

Chase Utley then turned on a slider and ripped it to rightfield. But instead of it dropping in for a two-run double, it landed in the lunging glove of Houston's Jimmy Paredes, ending the inning.

"What can you say? We've got two runs there for sure," Manuel said. "And then we come back, have a rough bottom of the seventh. That's what happens when you win. You outplay the other team and when you do things right and good, things will happen for you."

The Phillies were going that way when they left Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday. But they have lost ground in the wild-card race in the four games since, moving from three games back to four with just 15 games remaining in their season.

The Phils arrived in Houston riding the good vibrations of a seven-game winning streak and left with a losing record and their season on the brink.

"We can turn it around," Manuel said. "We've been in tougher situations than this, quite a few times . . . We have 15 games and we're four back, we have to play like hell, but we can do that."

The Phillies will try to reboot their improbable climb into contention Monday at Citi Field against the New York Mets, where they hope to bury the memories of a nightmarish weekend at Minute Maid Park.

"It's three games. It's not the end of the world," Halladay said. "If we let three games get the best of us, we wouldn't be where we are right now. [This] was a chance to put us in an even better spot and it didn't happen the way we wanted.

"If we let these three games get the best of us, then we're in trouble. There is still a ways to go. We can still make a run at it. We would have just been in a lot better spot."

Contact Ryan Lawrence at rlawrence@phillynews.com.

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