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Barmes bashes a three-run shot to deep left

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills admitted the anxiety level in the home dugout at Minute Maid Park was on the rise as the bases-loaded fly ball off the bat of Phillies slugger Ryan Howard was descending in the fifth inning Tuesday night.

With the left-field wall looking closer to home plate than ever before and the Astros nursing a four-run lead, no one drew an easy breath until Astros rookie outfielder J.D. Martinez jumped and snagged the ball in front of the wall for the inning's final out.

"I'm just glad it landed where it did," Astros starter J.A. Happ said.

With Happ holding his former team to four hits and one run in six innings and Clint Barmes providing the offensive punch with a three-run homer into the Crawford Boxes, the Astros kept the Phillies from clinching a playoff spot with a 5-2 win.

Happ followed the lead of teammate Brett Myers, who won Monday's series opener, and became the second consecutive former Phillies pitcher to stick it to his former teammates. The Astros, having already clinched a series win, will try for the sweep Wednesday against Phillies ace Roy Halladay.

"It's big," Martinez said. "It just shows the kind of potential we have. Tomorrow we got the big guy, so hopefully we can get the last one."

Happ (6-15) improved to 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in four starts since his brief stint at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and he's now 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA in two career starts against the team that selected him in the third round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft.

"It's always probably going to bring back some memories a little bit, but definitely when I was out there I wasn't focused on that," Happ said.

Fernando Rodriguez backed Happ by throwing two scoreless innings, striking out four batters. David Carpenter worked the ninth, allowing a solo homer to Carlos Ruiz, before closing out the game and making sure the Astros wouldn't yet set a franchise record for losses in a season.

The top three hitters in the Astros' batting order -- Jason Bourgeois, Barmes and Martinez -- went 5-for-14 with three runs scored and drove in all five of Houston's run. J.B. Shuck came off the bench and went 3-for-3 to replace right fielder Jason Michaels, who broke a bone in his left hand making a diving catch. Michaels will have season-ending surgery Wednesday.

Barmes' three-run homer off Cole Hamels in the fourth capped a four-run inning and gave the Astros a 5-1 lead.

"I hit it good," Barmes said. "I felt like it was good off the bat, but at that point I didn't know for sure if it had enough to get out in that corner right there, or if it was going to get into the Crawford seats. Fortunately, it hooked enough at the end and it got in the seats, and I was able to jog at that point."

Fortunately for the Astros, Howard's tenuous fly ball in the fifth wasn't quite able to duplicate the track of Barmes' long ball.

Happ began the fifth by recording two quick outs before giving up a single to Jimmy Rollins and issuing a pair of walks to load the bases. Up stepped Howard, who fouled off a pair of 3-2 pitches before sending a fly ball to deep left but into Martinez's glove, allowing Happ to breathe a huge sigh of relief.

"He's one of the most dangerous hitters, if not the most dangerous hitter in that situation," Happ said. "I was trying to be careful and trying to locate pitches, and I felt like I did. I just missed a few times and it was a tough battle. Luckily, J.D. got that ball."

Martinez wasn't so sure Howard hadn't just hit a game-tying grand slam.

"I thought it was going to go out," he said. "I knew it was a high fly ball and was going to come down, so I wasn't going to have to play it off the wall. So I just got right up against the wall and I was just praying for it to come down. It started breaking and I knew I was going to have a chance after it did that."

Hamels (14-8) was rocked for nine hits and five runs (four earned) in five innings. The four earned runs are his most allowed since a season-high seven in 4 1/3 innings July 16 at the Mets. He fell to 3-3 in nine career starts against the Astros.

"There are going to be those times where you're not [playing your best], but somebody, especially on the good teams, picks you up and you're able to squeak on by here and there," Hamels said. "But we weren't able to do that. We were just kind of outplayed, and [now we] go back to the drawing board and get after it again."

Barmes was 2-for-2 in his career against Hamels coming into the game. He doubled and scored in the first inning and struck out in the second before hitting his 11th homer of the season in the fourth.

"He definitely attacked the zone," Barmes said about Hamels. "I got a changeup that was elevated enough that I was able to stay through it a little bit my first at-bat, and then he came at me with a fastball [in the fourth]. I was trying to get something good to hit and put the barrel on it. I'll take every one of those I can get, for sure. He's definitely a great pitcher and these are great games to play." Comments