After stumbling in the series opener against the lowly Houston Astros, last night the Phillies regained the form that saw them win their previous seven games. Whether the Phils are playoff-bound or not, the Astros are a team that will lose 100 games this season, so the blown-lead loss on Thursday was disappointing to say the least. We knew they weren't going to win out though, so the more important question was how they would respond. Fortunately, it didn't take long for them to get back on track.
On Friday night, the Phillies' bats lit up the scoreboard before starter Cole Hamels even stepped into the diamond. Jimmy Rollins hit his fifth leadoff homer of the season (20th overall, 42nd career leadoff), and three more visiting runs would score before the top half of the inning was over. The Astros would hang a few runs on Hamels and the bullpen, but 16 hits powered the Phillies to a 12-6 win.
Perhaps just as importantly, they got some help from the teams they trail in the wild card standings.
After Jimmy slugged No. 20 on the season, Juan Pierre drew a walk and stole his 35th base of the season. Yep, 35 bags for the 35-year-old. It was a key swipe too, because Chase Utley slashed a single to center, and Pierre wheeled all the way in. The recipe turned out well enough the first time, so the Phils immediately used it again, with Utley stealing second. Ryan Howard followed it up with a ground rule double up the right field line, scoring Chase. Chooch and Dom Brown couldn't get Howard home from second, but John Mayberry Jr made the score 4-0 with a single that brought the big man in.
Errors allowed the Astros to earn a respectable run total, with three of their six coming of the unearned variety, starting with a throwing error in the first by Rollins. Still, despite three costly throwing gaffes, the other two coming in the eighth and ninth innings, the Phils were able to outpace the Astros with some big swings. They finished the night 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position; Howard, Utley, and Mayberry each had a pair of hits with RISP, combining for eight RBI. Mayberry also scored from second on a Kevin Frandsen single after Mayberry doubled in the fourth. In the fifth, he made the Astros pay for walking Brown ahead of him to load the bases, singling in Utley and Chooch. Brown would get his pitch in the seventh though, sending a 407-footer to right with Ruiz on base after a walk.
After Rollins and Pierre each got aboard with singles in the eighth, Utley and Howard combined to drive in three runs and put the lead at an unreachable distance despite the errors (and a Justin De Fratus wild pitch) that would allow the Astros to scratch out two more runs before the night was done.
Darin Ruf pinch hit for De Fratus in the top of the ninth, popping out to third.
Hamels went seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned, two on HRs) while striking out eight and walking one.
Six Astros pitchers combined to throw 201 pitches (Phillies threw 139), walking five batters and striking out eight.
Game 3 at Minute Maid Park will feature Kyle Kendrick vs lefty Dallas Keuchel, who carries a 5.35 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and just one win against seven losses.
Wild Card Watch
The Cubs handed the Pirates their seventh straight loss, and the Bucs are now tied with the Phils at three games back. The Mets pitched in too, pulling the Brewers a half game off the pace with a 7-3 win over Milwaukee, and the NL West-leading Giants beat the Diamondbacks on the power of a Hunter Pence grand slam.
The Cardinals and Dodgers are closest in the battle for the final wild card slot, and they squared off in the second of a four-game set on Friday. After winning the opener, the Cards lost last night. They currently hold a one-game lead over LA.
It's still a crowded pack, but just three games separate the Phils from the second wild card slot.