Phils Top Astros, Stay in Wild Card Hunt

Sunday, September 17th 2006, 7:11 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ A blown call cost Ryan Howard his 57th home run. Even so, Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies came out just fine. Hamels pitched hitless ball for 6 2-3 innings and the Phillies beat Houston Astros 7-2 Saturday to keep close in the NL wild-card race.

The Phillies are 1 1/2 games behind wild card-leading San Diego, which beat the Dodgers 11-2 Saturday. Philadelphia's win prevented the New York Mets from clinching the NL East title.

The game was scoreless in the sixth when Howard hit what was ruled a double by umpire Larry Poncino. Replays appeared to show a young fan in the first row of the left-field seats trying to catch the ball and dropping it.

After the game, Poncino said he got it wrong.

``The play was the play,'' Poncino said in a statement. ``The ball was over the fence and that's it.''

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel argued the call at the time, but not too vehemently.

``I was in the dugout and it was hard to see,'' he said. ``I couldn't follow the ball all the way but some of the guys in the dugout said the kid leaned over and hit the ball. I didn't see any of our guys really jumping up and down. Sometimes that really helps you know what happened.''

Howard wasn't sure, either.

``I didn't see where it hit,'' Howard said after being told of Poncino's remarks. ``It's a little disappointing, but there's nothing you can do about it now unless they give me a home run when I hit a double sometime. It definitely would have been big at the time.''

Hamels (8-8) did not allow a hit until Adam Everett lined an RBI double with two outs in the seventh.

Hamels gave up three hits and struck out 11 in 7 2-3 innings to improve to 6-2 in his last 10 starts.

``The left-hander was the story,'' Manuel said. ``He did a heck of a job. I was thinking today could be the day. But he's got a big career to work on that.''

Hamels admitted thinking about a possible no-hitter.

``When you get through five or six innings and you're doing as well as I was doing, you start to understand that everything's working,'' said Hamels, who has never thrown a no-hitter at any level. ``It does cross your mind, but you just have to keep fighting and not think about it.''

The 22-year-old Hamels impressed his teammates.

``He's got a great future ahead of him,'' said David Dellucci, whose home run broke up a scoreless game and started a four-run seventh. ``The way he handles himself on the field and in the clubhouse is a lot more mature than his years.''

Hamels also received the Astros' praise.

``He did a great job,'' Morgan Ensberg said. ``He had phenomenal stuff. He was very effective with his changeup. It was very difficult to pick up because it's got a little sink in it.''

Dellucci said the Phillies were focusing on their games, not on other teams.

``The most important thing for us to do now is just win games,'' Dellucci said. ``It doesn't matter what the scoreboard says. We just have to play good fundamental baseball. That's what it takes to stay in this thing.''

The Astros started the day five games behind San Diego for the wild card.

``I'm disappointed,'' Houston manager Phil Garner said. ``I'm a little down right now. I'm sure I feel the same way the players feel right now. We needed to put on a good showing and we needed to do it very quickly against these guys and we just haven't done it. So we continue to dig a hole for ourselves.''

Ensberg agreed.

``We don't feel good about it,'' he said. ``Obviously, we realize we don't have very much wiggle room at all. We've put ourselves in a very difficult spot.''

Dellucci's 13th homer came off Jason Hirsh (3-4). After a walk, Chad Qualls relieved.

An error by first baseman Lance Berkman set up Jimmy Rollins' RBI double and set up run-scoring singles by Shane Victorino and Chase Utley.

Astros fans booed reliever Brad Lidge after he gave up a two-run triple to Abraham Nunez in the eighth. Lidge didn't retire any of the three batters he faced, and Rollins had a sacrifice fly.

Hirsh struck out five and held the Phillies without a hit until Chris Coste singled with one out in the fifth.

Ensberg drove in Taveras with a single in the eighth.