Towles swats pair, but Moehler struggles
Young catcher shines; starter allows seven early runs
PHILADELPHIA -- Astros catcher J.R. Towles stood for several minutes with his chin resting on the padded rails of the visiting dugout at Citizens Bank Park and soaked in the Phillies' celebration after clinching the National League East division title.
Towles, one of the young players who could help the Astros win a division championship themselves in the coming years, did his part to hold off Philadelphia's celebration by hitting two home runs Wednesday night, but the Phillies still buried the Astros, 10-3, and clinched the division.
"I was a little jealous," Towles said. "I wanted to be out there with them. All the hard work they put in paid off, and hopefully one day we can get to where they're at right now."
Towles recorded his first career multihomer game by hitting solo shots in the second and fourth innings to give the Astros a 3-1 lead, but the Phillies battered Astros starter Brian Moehler for four runs in the seventh inning and pulled away.
"[Phillies manager] Charlie Manuel and I go way back to our Minor League days," Astros interim manager Dave Clark said. "He was my hitting coach for a couple of years there in Cleveland. He's just a fun-loving guy, and if there's anyone who deserves it, it's him."
Former Astros closer Brad Lidge, who capped a perfect season by recording the final out in the 2008 World Series, was brought in to record the final out and needed one pitch to get former teammate and close friend Lance Berkman to ground out to first to end the inning.
"I didn't like it because I didn't want to have to face him," Berkman said.
Making his final start of the season, Moehler (8-12) gave up seven runs for the second consecutive start and allowed six hits in 4 1/3 innings. He went 1-7 with a 6.03 ERA in his final 13 starts, but he allowed three earned runs or less in eight of those games.
"I'm not pleased with the way the year went, but it was kind of up and down," said Moehler, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Monday morning. "I had a good run and finished strong towards the end, except for my last two starts. I'd like to have about three starts back. I'd like to have the first two starts of the season back, but it doesn't work that way."
The Astros loaded the bases with one out in the first against Phillies starter Pedro Martinez and managed one run on a walk by Hunter Pence. Towles gave the Astros a 2-1 lead in the second with a solo homer to left that was originally called a double before the umpires reviewed it via video replay.
"I am getting my confidence back, and Clarkie told me to just go up there and swing the bat and have fun," Towles said. "That's what I was trying to do, to get something I can hit and put a good swing on it. Fortunately, they're starting to drop for me."
The homer was Towles' first since April 19, 2008, a span of 152 at-bats. He didn't wait nearly as long for his next homer, rocketing an 0-2 pitch over the wall in left in his next at-bat in the fourth to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.
"It was just a matter of time," Clark said. "I've always said this kid can hit. It's just about him really getting that confidence back again. Hopefully with a game like tonight, he'll get that confidence back and he'll get a chance to catch two or there more games before the season is over. It's really good to see him going well."
Philadelphia got within 3-2 in the fourth on a Ryan Howard single that put runners at first and third with no outs. Raul Ibanez then hit a one-hopper back to Moehler, who looked Chase Utley back to third before firing to second to begin what would have been a double play.
But second baseman Kaz Matsui wasn't covering the base, and the throw went into center to allow the game-tying run to score. The Phillies wound up scoring two more runs in the inning to take a 5-3 lead. Back-to-back triples by Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino in the fifth gave Philadelphia a 7-3 lead and got the party started.
"We started off the game pretty good there," Clark said. "We were real good for 3 1/2 and we go out in the bottom of the fourth and Mo missed his spots and his breaking balls starts to get up a little bit. You're talking about a real good offensive ballclub, and any time a pitcher makes mistakes they take advantage of it. With all those left-handed hitters over there, you can't make too many mistakes against a team like that."
The Astros won their first five meetings against the Phillies this year, including a four-game sweep in Houston earlier this month, but have lost two straight after winning Monday's series opener at Citizens Bank Park.
"We caught them at a real good time when they weren't swinging as well," Clark said of the early September sweep. "We ran our top three guys out there at them as well. It was a little different this time. We pitched two guys [whom] it was their first time being starters and we were able to sneak that first one through and thought we had a chance [Tuesday] night. We thought we had a chance with Moehler. He's a veteran guy and knows how to pitch."
Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada extended his hitting streak to 17 games by going 2-for-5. He needs six hits in the final five games to become the second Houston player to reach 200 hits in a season.
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.