Locked in an extremely tight battle for the NL wild card, the Philadelphia Phillies insist the intensity of the race is hardly getting to them.
Following a rainout Tuesday, the Phillies (70-68) look to continue their playoff push and take their first series from the Houston Astros (67-71) in three years when the teams continue their three-game set at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night.
Tuesday’s rainout has been rescheduled for Sept. 25 in Philadelphia. Both teams were scheduled to be off that day.
All-Star second baseman Chase Utley hit a walkoff homer in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday, giving the Phillies a 3-2 victory over Houston in the series opener. The win was Philadelphia’s first against the Astros since May 18, 2003— snapping a 12-game losing streak.
The Phillies fell 2 games behind wild card-leading San Diego after the Padres posted a 5-4 win over Colorado on Tuesday. Florida is 3 games behind and Cincinnati and San Francisco are 3 1/2 games out. The Astros are 5 back.
“I think it’s pretty relaxed around here,” Utley said. “We’re having a great time. We’re playing great baseball so I think that helps. I don’t feel any pressure around here.”
The Phillies have won three of their last four thanks in large part to Ryan Howard’s hot bat. The first baseman hit his major-league leading 53rd homer Monday and is batting .458 (22-for-48) with 10 homers and 23 RBIs during a 14-game hitting streak.
He will try to continue his torrid stretch against Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.44 ERA), who looks to win his third straight start for Houston. The left-hander will try to move over .500 for the first time this year.
Pettitte limited Milwaukee to two runs—one earned—and five hits over seven innings in a 5-3 victory Thursday. He threw 74 of his 110 pitches for strikes, walking one and striking out five.
He has limited opponents to two runs or less in four of his last five starts, posting a 2.10 ERA in that span.
Pettitte is 2-2 with a 3.81 ERA in five starts against the Phillies, and will be facing them for the first time this season. He went 2-0 against them last year, allowing one run in 12 2-3 innings.
The veteran will try to give the Astros a boost two days after Roger Clemens left after five innings with a strained right groin. Manager Phil Garner said Clemens should make his scheduled start Saturday against Florida.
“I think he’s doing fine,” Garner said.
Charlton Jimerson homered in his first major league at-bat Monday to break up Cole Hamels’ perfect game in the sixth inning, and Aubrey Huff added a solo shot, but Houston suffered its third loss in four games following a season-high six-game winning streak.
“We have to win every ballgame,” Garner said. “We have to go out and win them all and if we lose, it’s the end of the world. We’ve got to get to .500, and if we can’t get to .500, we can’t even put it in our vocabulary, talking about the playoff situation.”
The Astros will have to get past Randy Wolf (3-0, 5.30) as they try to get back on track. The left-hander will be looking to win his third straight decision when he makes his eighth start of the season following Tommy John surgery in 14 months ago.
Wolf allowed two runs and five hits over five innings in a 6-5, 10-inning loss to Washington on Thursday. It was the first time this season that the Phillies lost when Wolf pitched.
The left-hander has lasted just five innings in three straight starts, as he averaged nearly 96 pitches in those games. Wolf is 3-4 with a 4.11 ERA in seven starts against the Astros.