The Philadelphia Phillies hope their Wednesday night ends with a third straight NL East title and a champagne-soaked celebration in their clubhouse.
Martinez is scheduled to start for the first time since Sept. 19 as the Phillies, needing one victory to clinch another division crown, continue a four-game series with the Houston Astros.
The reigning World Series champions didn’t close out the NL East as quickly as they’d hoped. The Phillies (91-66) had lost five of seven entering Tuesday night, prompting manager Charlie Manuel to address his team before the game in a closed-door meeting.
The club responded with a 7-4 win over Houston. The victory - combined with Atlanta’s 5-4 loss to Florida - trimmed Philadelphia’s magic number to one. The Phillies are hoping to seal the division quickly enough to have an easy weekend to prepare for their title defense.
Philadelphia also has other issues to address, such as its postseason starting rotation.
Martinez (5-1, 3.32 ERA) looked like a lock to be a part of that group after the Phillies won each of his first seven starts, with the 37-year-old right-hander flashing some of the vintage form that earned him three Cy Young Awards between 1997 and 2000.
However, the midseason acquisition left his most recent appearance with a stiff neck after allowing three runs and seven hits in three innings of a 6-4 loss to the Braves. He was scratched from his scheduled start Saturday, saying he wanted to be ready to pitch in the postseason.
“I’m not going to put anything in jeopardy,” Martinez said Friday. “I’m going to be smart.”
This start figures to be the final regular-season tuneup for Martinez. He has faced the Astros four times since 1997, going 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA in those outings.
Plenty of uncertainty remains behind the right-hander in Philadelphia’s bullpen. Ryan Madson(notes) worked two efficient innings for the save Tuesday, with struggling right-hander Brad Lidge(notes) having lost his job as closer.
Manuel could still look to Lidge if he needs a save to seal the division Wednesday. The right-hander has blown a major league-high 11 save chances this year, but only one of those has come at Citizens Bank Ballpark.
“Lidge pitches better at home than he does on the road and he matches up good against (Houston’s) right-handers,” Manuel said.
Moehler matched a season high by allowing seven runs and lasted just 2 1-3 innings in the 10-4 defeat. He had been 1-1 with a 3.12 ERA in his previous six starts.
He was much better against the Phillies on Sept. 7, when he allowed three runs in 5 2-3 innings and didn’t get a decision in the Astros’ 4-3 victory. Moehler continued to have problems with Howard, who homered in that game and is 10 for 20 (.500) with three homers and three doubles in their matchups.
Houston (73-84) has been stumbling down the stretch, going 3-12 since Sept. 13 and prompting a managerial change from Cecil Cooper to Dave Clark on Sept. 21.
The Astros have scored more than four runs in a game only twice in their last 16 contests, batting .207 with runners in scoring position in that span.