After losing five of seven and conjuring up the ghosts of 1964, Charlie Manuel called a team meeting of his slumping Phillies before last night's game. He told his team that they needed to relax and just play ball, and they did just that last night.
Carried by a huge fourth inning grand slam by third baseman Pedro Feliz, the Phils beat the Astros 7-4. "It was a big swing," said Feliz. "Four runs on one swing." He was right. "Oh, it was huge," declared Ryan Howard, "especially because we've been scuffling with the bats, getting runs. Any time you can hit a grand slam, that's pretty big. That definitely catapulted us."
J. A. Happ, who definitely did not have his best stuff last night, nevertheless won his 12th game of the season, running his record to 12-4. Happ pitched 5.2 innings, battling for every pitch and every out. When he finally ran out of gas after throwing 120 pitches, Charlie Manuel brought in Jamie Moyer, and the 46-year-old southpaw put out the fire, stranding two runs. He then pitched a shutout seventh inning before having to be helped off the field after tweaking his groin. It's unknown how long Moyer might be out. Happ's performance last night, on a night when he clearly didn't have his best stuff, probably went a long way toward nailing down his position as the frontrunner for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
Manuel then brought in Ryan Madson, who pitched two shutout innings to earn the save. Madson only needed 9 pitches to close out the Astros in the 8th, so Manuel elected to leave him in the game. Madson got in trouble to open the 9th, but then struck out two tough hitters in Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence to end the game to the cheers of a huge and vocal crowd. "The crowd definitely helped," said Madson. "When I went out there for the ninth, they made some noise."
The Florida Marlins helped the Phillies out last night by hanging on to beat Atlanta 5-4 after inducing Chipper Jones to hit into a huge ninth inning double play. That reduced the Phils' magic number to 1, and resulted in them clinching at least a tie for the Eastern Division title. The Phils play the Astros again tonight, with Pedro Martinez on the mound with a chance to clinch the title and permit Charlie Manuel to rest his weary regulars--Chase Utley looks completely worn out after hitting a couple of weak ground balls last night, and Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have both played more than 150 games and look tired too--for a few days before the playoffs begin.
Let's hope that they can do so tonight so that the remaining four games become meaningless.