This afternoon’s marquee matchup between rookie Cole Hamels and future Hall of Famer Roger Clemens may carry the headline, but the subplot finds an Astros team that has broken the Phillies hearts for two seasons.
There’s an excellent piece by Don Bostrom of the Morning Call previewing this series with the Astros. It's not online, otherwise I’d link to it. In it, Bostrom summarizes the last two years of this series. The Phillies have not defeated the Astros since May 18, 2003, and many of the losses have been backbreakers, particularly last season. He also talks about Pat Burrell, who has yet to get a hit off the Astros since Citizens Bank Park opened in 2004, and was 1-for-18 against them in 2005. Ironically, as part of the club's 2004 Winter Tour promotion before the park opened, a promotional rendering of the new scoreboard had the Phillies beating the Astros on a walk-off Burrell home run.
It's not going to get any easier for Burrell today. Roger Clemens (6-4, 2.29 ERA), maybe the best pitcher in the National League, last faced the Phillies July 27 of 05, and dominated them in a 3-2 win.
That was hardly the worst of it. The Phillies were Wild Card leaders when the Astros entered Philadelphia last Labor Day. Here’s what happened, as summarized by Bostrom:
Sept. 5: Astros 4, Phillies 3: Houston scores four runs off Brett Myers in the first and holds on for the win, putting them in the WC lead
Sept 6: Astros 2, Phillies 1: Wagner gives up a run in the ninth to take the loss in his first career outing against his former team.
Sept 7: Astros 8, Phillies 6: Bobby Abreu’s two-run homer caps a rally that gives Philadelphia a 6-5 lead entering in the ninth. Wagner’s career-best streak of 26 saves comes to an end when a two-out error by David Bell leads to a game-winning, three-run home run by Craig Biggio.
The previous post referenced expectations, psycology and pressure. Luckily, Cole Hamels (7-7, 4.50 ERA) wasn’t around for all that. Hamels allowed just one run in eight innings of Wednesday's 5-1 win at Washington. He has never faced Houston.
At 67-70, Houston is still in the Wild Card hunt, and playing well. They’ve won seven of their last 10. Meanwhile, the Phillies are coming off a disappointing split in a winnable series with Atlanta. They dropped 1 ½ games back of the front-running Padres.