Astros 5, Phillies 2

J.A. Happ has taken advantage of his return to Houston after a
stint in Triple-A last month.

Happ pitched six solid innings against his former team and Clint
Barmes hit a three-run homer as the Astros beat Philadelphia 5-2 on
Tuesday night, preventing the Phillies from wrapping up a playoff
spot for the second consecutive night.

Acquired from Philadelphia last year as part of the Roy Oswalt
trade, Happ (6-15) allowed four hits and one run with four
strikeouts. Since a three-week stint in the minors after going 4-14
over 22 starts, the left-hander is 2-1 in four starts since Aug.
26.

”I’m just trying to get back to where I was and where I should
be and pitch the way I’m capable,” Happ said. ”I think tonight is
a good indication of that and getting back on the right track and
pitching with confidence.”

The Phillies needed a win over Houston or a loss by St. Louis to
clinch at least a wild-card berth. But the NL East leaders will
have to wait to secure their place in the postseason after the
Cardinals beat the Pirates 6-4 on Tuesday night.

The Astros won their second straight game to avoid setting a
franchise record for losses in a season. Their 97 defeats are tied
for the club mark, which has been reached three other times, most
recently in 1991.

Fernando Rodriguez threw two scoreless innings before David
Carpenter took over in the ninth.

”(Happ) did a real good job of keeping his emotions under
control,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. ”Sometimes he put
everything right on the edge, but stayed down in the zone, which I
thought was absolutely outstanding. He kept getting behind in the
count but getting himself back in the count, which was big.”

Happ improved to 2-0 in two starts against his former team.

”I felt good,” he said. ”A lot of first-pitch strikes, and
that was definitely a goal. I was able to execute for the most
part.”

Happ took advantage of a fielding error at first base to help
the Astros to a four-run fourth. He escaped allowing a grand slam
to Ryan Howard in the fifth when rookie J.D. Martinez made the
catch at the left-field wall to end the inning.

For the Phillies, former Astros star Hunter Pence homered to tie
it at 1 in the fourth, and Carlos Ruiz also went deep for
Philadelphia in the ninth. But Cole Hamels’ struggles against the
Astros continued, dropping the left-hander to 0-3 in his last five
starts against them.

Hamels went 3-0 in his first four career starts against the
Astros before the recent change in fortunes.

Hamels (14-8) allowed the Astros the early lead by allowing
consecutive doubles – the latter by Martinez to score Barmes – in
the first.

”The back-to-back doubles to get on the board first were sure
huge,” Mills said.

But on this night, it was the fourth inning that did Hamels
in.

J.B. Shuck singled to lead off the inning and stole second base
before Happ reached on a fielding error by Howard.

Happ’s seemingly easy grounder to first bounced up on Howard,
who scrambled to recover. The gaffe gave Happ just enough time to
beat Hamels to the bag as Shuck went to third.

Jason Bourgeois followed with a single to score Shuck. Barmes
cleared the bases with a three-run shot to left to give Houston a
four-run lead.

”I hit it good. I felt like it was good off the bat,” Barmes
said. ”At that point, I didn’t know for sure if it had enough to
get out. Fortunately, it hooked enough to get in (the Crawford
Boxes).”

Earlier in the inning, Pence hit his 20th home run on a ball
that bounced high on the wall in left-center to tie it at 1.

The former Astro, traded to Philadelphia in July, received a
standing ovation from a group of fans sitting near the Phillies
dugout.

Right fielder Jason Michaels robbed Howard of a hit with a
diving catch, which injured his left hand in the second inning.
Michaels finished the inning, but was replaced by Shuck in the
third.

The team said Michaels broke a bone in his left hand and will
have season-ending surgery to repair the injury on Wednesday.

Martinez had an RBI double to give Houston a 1-0 lead in the
first inning. Barmes doubled to set up the score. Carlos Lee
singled after the double by Martinez, before Matt Downs was hit by
a pitch to load the bases with one out.

Hamels escaped the jam by retiring the next two Astros.

NOTES: Despite the loss, Philadelphia is 30-10 against lefties
this season. … The teams wrap up the three-game series Wednesday
when Houston’s Bud Norris faces Roy Halladay, who allowed four hits
and one run while striking out nine over eight innings in his last
start, a 5-3 win over Milwaukee. Norris has won just once in his
last 11 starts. … Lee has hit safely in 21 of his last 22
games.