Bruntlett delivered as a pinch runner, stealing second and third then scoring the go-ahead run on Jason Lane’s RBI single in the ninth inning to lift the wild-card leading Astros to a 2-1 victory over the Phillies on Tuesday night.
“We made it happen tonight,” Houston manager Phil Garner said.
The Astros moved one game ahead of Florida and 1 1/2 games ahead of Philadelphia in the wild-card standings with their 11th consecutive win over the Phillies. The Phillies lost their fourth straight overall.
Bruntlett’s steals helped make a winner out of Roy Oswalt (17-11), who struck out eight, allowed six hits and one earned run in eight spectacular innings.
Brad Lidge worked the ninth for his 34th save.
With one out in the ninth, Lance Berkman was walked by former Houston All-Star closer Billy Wagner (4-2). Bruntlett stole second and third—his fourth and fifth steals this year—with huge jumps, though catcher Todd Pratt seemed to have trouble getting the ball out of his mitt each time.
Lane then ripped a single to left for a 2-1 lead. Charles Gipson ran for Lane and tested Pratt again, stealing second, but was thrown out trying to steal third, earning the battered catcher some mock applause.
“Chances are you’re not to going to string a few base hits against him, so it’s worth taking a little bit of a risk,” Bruntlett said of Wagner.
Pratt had to change his mitt in the ninth, though he wasn’t blaming the equipment on his throwing woes. On Bruntlett’s first steal, Pratt said he had no shot at throwing him out. On Bruntlett’s second, Pratt said he simply double-clutched.
“It would have been nice to win both games, but if we continue to play like this, we’ll be right there,” Pratt said.
The Astros should know how tough it is to beat Wagner, the lefty with the 100 mph fastball who had five 30-save seasons with them.
“The last team I want to be beat by is Houston,” he said.
It took some gutsy pitching from Oswalt in the eighth to keep the Astros alive.
Rollins ripped what appeared to be a sure double to right to open the eighth, but he missed first base, stumbled rounding the bag and stayed put. He moved to second on a sacrifice and stayed there after a strikeout.
“It was key there,” Oswalt said. “It may have cost them.”
The Phillies’ 4-3 loss to Houston on Monday ended when Endy Chavez struck out with runners on second and third.
“We damn sure need a win,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said.
Oswalt dazzled through his first four economical innings, retiring the first 10 batters and ending a two-on, two-out jam in the fourth with a big, baffling curveball that Burrell futilely flailed at for strike three.
The boo birds erupted as the fans continue to be frustrated with a Phillies team that seems poised to make a serious playoff push one week until it falls apart the next.
Their attitude briefly changed when Howard led off with the fifth with his 14th homer, tying the score at 1.
Oswalt, though, pitched out of a tight spot in the seventh, leaving two runners stranded after getting Pratt and pinch-hitter Michael Tucker to fly out to center.
“When he got in the big jam, he got out of it,” Garner said.
Craig Biggio’s solo homer in the first gave Houston a 1-0 lead and was the second straight game the Astros jumped on the Phillies with a first-inning blast.
Lieber walked none, struck out four and gave up five hits in seven innings. It was the eighth time in his last 10 starts (4-4, two no-decisions) that he hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs.
Houston LHP Andy Pettitte, who left Monday’s game after he was hit in the foot by a grounder, was fine and will not miss his next start. … Houston 3B Morgan Ensberg was not in the starting lineup after leaving Monday’s game with a bruised right hand. Ensberg, who was hit by a pitch, was available to pinch hit. … Rollins extended his career-best hitting streak to 13 games.