Phillies handcuffed by Happ, Astros

Phillies handcuffed by Happ, Astros

PHILADELPHIA -- Brett Myers and J.A. Happ know the Phillies well.

They spent their entire professional careers with the Phillies until they joined the Houston Astros this season. They watched Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and others take countless at-bats. They learned their strengths and picked up their weaknesses. They took that knowledge to the mound this week at Citizens Bank Park to help the Astros win the first three games in a four-game series to keep the Phillies 2 1/2 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East.

Happ, who the Phillies traded to Houston on July 29 as part of the Roy Oswalt trade, allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings Wednesday in a 3-2 victory over the Phillies.

"I'm sure they wanted to pitch good," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said of Myers and Happ. "But at the same time, they could have been anybody. When you make mistakes like we do and when you hit like we have been, you get beat. It doesn't matter who we're playing. If we get pitching like we've been getting and we're still getting beat, it doesn't matter who we're playing. If you're going to score one or two runs or none a night, we're going to get beat."

That is exactly what has happened lately. The Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in six of their last seven games. They are 2-5 in that stretch.

The Phillies have been held to two or fewer runs 42 times this season.

But the hitting is not the only thing that has bothered Manuel.

Mental errors have frustrated him, too.

Astros catcher Humberto Quintero picked Jayson Werth off second base in Monday's 3-2 victory over the Phillies. Myers, who the Phillies told after the 2009 season they did not want him back, allowed two hits in seven innings that night.

Quintero then picked off Ben Francisco off third base in the seventh inning Thursday. Quintero blocked a ball in front of the plate. He said he thought Francisco believed he planned to pick up the ball and hand it to home-plate umpire Brian Knight for a new one. He instead fired a hard throw to third. It caught Francisco off guard, and he stumbled back to third base.

"That was a bad play," Manuel said. "It's been addressed."

Francisco left the ballpark before reporters entered the clubhouse.

The Astros took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when Hunter Pence hit a 91-mph cutter from Phillies ace Roy Halladay into the left-field seats for a solo homer. Werth tied the game with a solo homer to left field in the fifth inning.

Michael Bourn hit his second homer of the season to make it 2-1 in the sixth.

"The one to Bourn we were trying to go up and in a little bit and kind of left it right in his hot spot, down and in," Halladay said. "Both not great pitches. I thought Bourn did a good job of getting the bat to the ball. That's kind of his spot. Sometimes you get away with those. Obviously, not pitches I would like to make if I had the chance to do it again."

The Phillies tied the game in the sixth when Halladay scored on Placido Polanco's one-out double to left field. The Phillies had runners on second and third with one out, but Utley popped out to second baseman Anderson Hernandez and Werth grounded out to Hernandez to end the inning.

Utley is 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position since he returned from the disabled list. Werth is hitting .154 (17-for-108) with runners in scoring position, which ranks last in baseball.

The Phillies threatened in the seventh with runners at the corners, but the inning ended with Francisco's miscue.

Happ improved to 4-2, while Halladay dropped to 16-9 -- despite allowing just six hits and three runs in seven innings.

"I'm a little relieved it's over," Happ said. "There were definitely some nerves going out there and I didn't know how I was going to feel. Just like usual, once you get out there and get going it's just another game ... kind of.

"I just wanted to throw strikes. I know for those guys they feed off a little bit of energy and you try to hold them down the best you can and try to slow myself down and slow them down a little bit. For the most part I was able to do that."

Phillies fans applauded Happ as he walked off the field with one out in the seventh.

"That was awesome," Happ said. "They've been a class act towards me when I was here the whole time and that was pretty special. Obviously, they didn't need to do that, but it was awesome that they did."

They cheered Happ, but they would have rather seen the Phillies score a few more runs against him. And once again the Phillies failed to pick up a game on the Braves. Atlanta has lost three consecutive games to the Colorado Rockies. If the Phillies had won just two of these first three winnable games against the Astros, they would be a half-game back in the NL East heading into Thursday afternoon's series finale.

These three losses could look huge in a month.

"It's definitely kind of tough right now, not going out and taking advantage," Ryan Howard said. "We've had a couple lackadaisical plays, kind of caught us off guard with baserunning and whatnot. We've just got to pull it together. At this point in the season we've got to be better. We know we can play better than that."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.