for this game

Phillies fall into tie with Dodgers; Astros win sixth straight

Sep 26, 2006 - 2:45 AM PHILADELPHIA (Ticker) -- The Philadelphia Phillies wasted a big opportunity, which is something the Houston Astros have not been doing much of lately.

The Phillies squandered a two-run lead in the seventh inning as their five-game winning streak came to an end with a 5-4 defeat to the red-hot Astros, who continue to make a late surge for the postseason.

In a makeup game resulting from a rainout on September 5, Philadelphia failed to move one full game ahead of idle Los Angeles in the National League wild card standings. Instead, the Phillies (82-74) now are tied with the Dodgers (82-74) with both teams having six games remaining.

Meanwhile, the Astros (78-78) have won six consecutive contests to move within 2 1/2 games of the reeling St. Louis Cardinals (80-75) in the NL Central.

Many of Houston's players watched from the clubhouse as the Cardinals absorbed a 6-5 loss to San Diego, cheering as the final out was recorded.

"It's turned around because we're playing a lot better, but we're still not in the driver's seat," said Orlando Palmeiro, who tied the game with a two-run pinch single in the seventh. "Hopefully, things fall into place. We got a week to go and we're gonna keep doing the same thing. Every day is like a Game 7."

Philadelphia held a 4-2 lead entering the seventh before Houston scored three runs off a host of ineffective relievers.

Rick White issued a one-out walk to Morgan Ensberg and, with two outs, lefthander Matt Smith (0-1) walked both Luke Scott and Chris Burke to load the bases. Geoff Geary came on and allowed an opposite-field base hit to Palmeiro to tie the game.

"I think in that situation, guys are just looking for particular pitches," said Palmeiro, whose 103 career pinch hits rank second among active players. "Obviously, we got mistakes to hit and we did something good with them."

Another pinch hitter, Mike Lamb worked an 11-pitch at-bat before sending a grounder to the left of second baseman Chase Utley, who made a diving stop but was unable to make a throw. Burke scored on the play to give Houston a 5-4 lead.

"It was just a situation where guys came through in the clutch and we've had a tough time doing that throughout the season," Lamb said. "The last week or so, we've been getting good pitching and timely hitting and doing the things we need to do win."

Geary had allowed only 9-of-37 inherited runners to score coming into the game.

"I had an opportunity to give the team a chance to be on top and I didn't do my job," Geary said. "I'll take the blame for all of it. I don't really care what happened before or after. We were winning when I came into the game."

Prior to this outing, Smith had not allowed a run in any of his previous 22 career major league appearances, spanning 18 2/3 innings.

"You look at what they did against me, what they did against Geoff," Smith said. "These guys aren't just gonna lay down. (Our team) gave us the lead and our job is to hold that lead. That's what I'm disappointed in tonight. I think I could have done a better job. We should have got the win tonight."

Dave Borkowski (3-2) picked up the win despite allowing two runs in the sixth. Three more relievers bridged the gap to Dan Wheeler, who worked a perfect ninth for his eighth save.

"We feel like we play these (type of) games all the time," Palmeiro said. "They're always nail-biting and it always seems to come down to one at-bat or one inning."

Ryan Howard delivered a two-run single in the fifth and Jimmy Rollins smacked a two-run homer in the sixth for the Phillies, who had been 4-1 against the Astros this year.

Ensberg hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth and Jason Lane belted a solo homer in the sixth for Houston, which improved to .500 for the first time since sitting at 43-43 on July 6.

"Now we have to get over .500, then we can talk about the pennant race," said Houston manager Phil Garner, whose team also sits four games off the wild card pace.

Randy Wolf started for the Phillies, allowing two runs and four hits in 5 2/3 innings with four walks and five strikeouts.

Chris Sampson made just his second career start for the Astros after finding out Monday afternoon that he would get the nod.

"I (got) a call about 2:30 this afternoon letting me know that I was getting the ball tonight," said Sampson, who worked 3 2/3 scoreless innings. "I just prepared myself as soon as I could."

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