The major league’s leading home run hitter looks to help the Philadelphia snap a 12-game losing streak against the Astros when the teams open a three-game series at Citizens Bank Park on Monday.
The Phillies (69-68) have not defeated the Astros since May 18, 2003, in the teams’ final meeting that season.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Houston’s Craig Biggio said. “I’ve played the game a long time and I’ve seen them turn around in a heartbeat.
“I don’t even want to talk about it, and hopefully no one else is stupid enough to talk about it.”
The Astros have scored at least four runs in nine games against Philadelphia during the streak.
Thanks in part to its play against Philadelphia, Houston has won the wild card the last two seasons and earned its first pennant last year. The Astros (67-70) begins play 3 1/2 games behind NL wild card-leader San Diego, while Philadelphia trails the Padres by 1 1/2 games.
The Astros will have to find a way to keep Howard in check if they hope to extend their streak. Howard homered in his first three at-bats Sunday, leading the Phillies to an 8-7 win in the first game of a doubleheader with the Atlanta Braves.
“It was a good game, a good day, for me, I would guess,” said Howard, who increased his major league-leading totals to 52 homers and 133 RBIs. “I just wanted to keep going out and having good ABs and have a good swing.”
Howard, the reigning NL rookie of the year, is hitting .457 (21-for-46) with nine homers during a 13-game hitting streak.
“What can you say? It’s unreal,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “It’s a credit to him and his hard work.”
Philadelphia, which lost the second game 3-1 in 11 innings, also split a doubleheader with the Braves on Saturday.
Jason Lane and Adam Everett each drove in runs for Houston, which has won seven of nine. Roy Oswalt, making his first start since signing a $73 million contract extension on Tuesday, carried a perfect game into the seventh.
“Overall, stuff-wise, this was probably the best I’ve had in a while,” Oswalt said. “I had all four pitches working.”
Roger Clemens (6-4, 2.29 ERA) will try to win his fifth decision in a row when he gets the start for Houston. Starting on July 30 when he failed to get a decision in a 7-6 loss to Arizona, Clemens is 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts.
The seven-time Cy Young Award winner has struck out 42 while walking just seven over 46 innings during his unbeaten streak. He’s 2-0 with a 4.24 ERA in three career starts versus the Phillies, but has not faced them on the road since Aug. 18, 2004 when he allowed four runs and five hits over three innings of a Houston’s 9-8 win.
It was the Rocket’s shortest stint in an Astros uniform. He also lasted three innings against Milwaukee on Sept. 9.
Clemens scattered three hits over seven scoreless innings and matched a season-high with nine strikeouts against the Brewers in his last start Thursday, but didn’t get a decision in Houston’s 1-0 win.
Philadelphia will counter with rookie Cole Hamels (7-7, 4.50), who allowed one run in eight innings of Wednesday’s 5-1 win at Washington.
“I definitely think I lucked out a little bit because I didn’t have all three pitches working,” Hamels said.
The left-hander, who has never faced Houston, bounced back nicely after giving up a season-high nine runs—five earned—in just two innings of an 11-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 24 while dealing with a cut on his finger.
The Astros and Phillies will finish out their season series Sept. 15-17 in Houston.