Houston wins to take three of four from Phillies

Roy Halladay left with a lead after six.
Roy Halladay left with a lead after six. (BOB LEVEY / Getty)
Posted: September 18, 2012

HOUSTON - The buses carrying a defeated team left Minute Maid Park late Sunday afternoon, and there was little to be said. The Phillies will never play another National League game in this city, the place where they once celebrated a championship 32 years ago. There is nothing but horror in recent seasons, and Sunday represented the last chapter.

A 99-loss Houston Astros team won three of four games against these desperate Phillies, who cling to the slimmest of wild-card hopes following a 7-6 defeat. The weekend was embarrassing, humbling, and downright repulsive.

"It's hard to explain," manager Charlie Manuel said.

The Phillies lost for the 16th time when leading after six innings. No other team in baseball has suffered that many defeats. The seventh inning devolved in familiar fashion; Michael Martinez committed an error, Antonio Bastardo nibbled, and Phillippe Aumont surrendered two hits that scored four runs.

Houston is the only NL team with a winning record (35-23) against the Phillies since 2004. The Astros' three latest triumphs probably destroyed Philadelphia's postseason dreams.

"It doesn't matter the name on the jersey," Jimmy Rollins said. "We lost. We just don't have any more room to lose."

The Phillies are four games behind the Cardinals for the second wild card and under .500 again. Even if St. Louis finishes 7-8, the Phillies must go 12-3 to pass them. And that's if none of the other three teams ahead of the Phillies in the wild-card race wins more than 84 games, which is entirely possible.

The odds are unrealistic.

"It's three games," said Roy Halladay, who needed 111 pitches to complete six innings. "It's not the end of the world. Worst-case scenario, we get out of here four games back and we move on. If we let three games get the best of us, we wouldn't be where we are right now."

But three games are a lot when only 15 remain. A split would have been underachieving, still, acceptable. There were chances for that. The Phillies jumped ahead in the fifth on a two-run double by Ryan Howard that made it 4-2. Houston chipped one run off before Halladay departed.

His inability to pitch deeper ultimately hurt. Halladay was previously immune to the Phillies' malaise here; his only two starts at Minute Maid Park yielded 18 innings and one unearned run.

The Astros dinged him Sunday on two home runs. One was a 345-foot scraper by Scott Moore that plopped into the corner of the short porch that juts into left field. The other was on a first-pitch curveball that Houston's third-string catcher, Carlos Corporan, hacked. That surprised Halladay, who believes the entire Phillies pitching staff never grasped how to attack the Astros' lineup. The rest of baseball has found it relatively easy.

"It's definitely an odd team to pitch to," Halladay said. "Sometimes they're aggressive. Sometimes they're not. Sometimes they're taking. I think the whole series, we never really figured out what their plan was. It was all over the place. It made it tough."

Even then, Halladay left with a lead. The Phillies were poised to add to it when Martinez doubled to start the seventh. Manuel used Pete Orr to pinch-hit, and when the Astros countered with a lefty, rookie Darin Ruf hit.

"We had a one-run lead," Manuel said. "If it's tied I'm bunting."

Ruf failed to move the runner. Rollins, who reached base four times, struck out. Ty Wigginton was plunked by a pitch. Chase Utley drove one to deep right that a leaping Jimmy Paredes stabbed.

"And all of a sudden they come back and go right back out there," Manuel said. "Bastardo strikes a guy out, we make a throwing error, and all hell breaks loose."

The Phillies reassured themselves with platitudes. "We can still make a run at it," Halladay said. "It's not good, but it's not deflating," Rollins said. "We're not going to give up," Manuel said.

No words removed the sour taste of Houston.

Deuces Wild

Here is each contender's road ahead for the NL's second wild-card spot:

St. Louis Cardinals (77-70)

Playoff probability, according to coolstandings.com: 64.8 percent.

Games remaining: 15.

Schedule: Vs. Houston (Sept. 18-20); at Chicago Cubs (Sept. 21-23); at Houston (Sept. 24-26); vs. Washington (Sept. 28-30); vs. Cincinnati (Oct. 1-3).

Los Angeles Dodgers (76-71)

Playoff probability: 15.4 percent.

Games remaining: 15.

Schedule: At Washington (Sept. 18-20); at Cincinnati (Sept. 21-23); at San Diego (Sept. 25-27); vs. Colorado (Sept. 28-30); vs. San Francisco (Oct. 1-3).

Milwaukee Brewers (74-72)

Playoff probability: 9.1 percent.

Games remaining: 16.

Schedule: At Pittsburgh (Sept. 18-20); at Washington (Sept. 21-24); at Cincinnati (Sept. 25-27); vs. Houston (Sept. 28-30); vs. San Diego (Oct. 1-3).

Pittsburgh Pirates (73-72)

Playoff probability: 6.2 percent.

Games remaining: 16.  

Schedule: at Chicago Cubs (Sept. 17); vs. Milwaukee (Sept. 18-20); at Houston (Sept. 21-23); at N.Y. Mets (Sept. 24-27); vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 28-30); vs. Atlanta (Oct. 1-3).

Phillies (73-74)

Playoff probability: 1.2 percent.

Games remaining: 15.

Schedule: At N.Y. Mets (Sept. 17-19); vs. Atlanta (Sept. 21-23); vs. Washington (Sept. 25-27); at Miami (Sept. 28-30); at Washington (Oct. 1-3).

Arizona Diamondbacks (72-74)

Playoff probability: 2.8 percent.

Games remaining: 15.

Schedule: Vs. San Diego (Sept. 18-20); at Colorado (Sept. 21-24); at San Francisco (Sept. 25-27); vs. Chicago Cubs (Sept. 28-30); vs. Colorado (Oct. 1-3).

A Problem With Houston

The Astros have the worst record in baseball, but they also have the Phillies' number. Dating from 2004, Houston is the only NL team with a winning record (35-23) against the Phillies.

Contact Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @magelb.