07/03/07 12:30 AM ET
Miller turns the page, nails down save
Pence, Lee go deep to back Williams' impressive start
By Ben DuBose / MLB.com
On Monday, he became a hero.
In a game where almost everything went right for eight innings, everything seemingly went wrong in the ninth. Nursing a four-run lead, closer Dan Wheeler came in and allowed two runs and left two more on base, bringing the Phillies within two and putting the tying run in scoring position with only one out.
But manager Phil Garner made the tough call to remove Wheeler in the middle of the ninth, opting for the left-hander Miller to finish the game, even against two right-handed batters. And the previously struggling left-hander got the job done, inducing a groundout from pinch-hitter Chris Coste and a flyout from Jimmy Rollins to end the game and secure the 7-5 Astros victory. Houston has now won seven of its last eight games at home.
"I definitely didn't get the results I wanted early on [this season], that's for sure," Miller said. "I've had a lot of sleepless nights. I've given up a season's worth of earned runs already in my role.
"But I've cast all that aside. It's the second half of the season, and I wanted to go out there, get the job done and keep us rolling. I trusted [catcher] Brad [Ausmus] and trusted my defense. It's about going out there, taking a deep breath, and not letting that situation control me. Instead, I controlled the situation."
Wheeler surrendered a double to Ryan Howard to lead off the inning before walking Pat Burrell and hitting Abraham Nunez with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Then, Carlos Ruiz doubled just off the glove of Hunter Pence in deep center, scoring two and putting the tying run on second with one out.
"I was just trying to get outs," Wheeler said of the at-bat against Ruiz. "I was trying to throw a strike, get it over the plate on the chance that maybe he hits a ground ball to somebody to end the inning. But he hit the ball pretty well, and I don't know what happened after that."
From there, Wheeler was removed to a chorus of boos from the 28,973 fans at Minute Maid Park.
This season, Miller has even struggled with his most basic job description: getting lefties out. He'd been even worse against right-handers, allowing them to hit at a .364 clip and reach base at a .467 pace before buckling down and getting the last two outs to end the game.
"Trever came in and picked me up, big time," Wheeler said. "It was huge, not just for me, but the team. He saved the game for us. He did a tremendous job."
From an offensive standpoint, there were few concerns for Houston. The Astros continued their recent surge from the plate, scoring seven runs or more for the fourth time in five games. They've now scored 116 runs in their last 18 games, an average of nearly 6.5 runs per game.
"I've been expecting it and enjoying it," Garner said of the offense. "It looks good. Guys are having great at-bats in key situations. There were lots of good at-bats all throughout the lineup."
Craig Biggio went 3-for-5 with two doubles and two runs scored, hitting more milestones in the process. His first double was the 1,000th extra-base hit of his career, and his third hit gave him 3,007 for his career, tying him with Al Kaline for 25th on the all-time list.
|"It's the second half of the season, and I wanted to go out there, get the job done and keep us rolling. I trusted [catcher] Brad [Ausmus] and trusted my defense. It's about going out there, taking a deep breath, and not letting that situation control me. Instead, I controlled the situation."|
|-- Trever Miller|
After Pence grounded out to third with Biggio on second in the first inning, Orlando Palmeiro gave advice to Pence in the dugout on how to handle the situation if it came up again. Sure enough, it did.
"[Palmeiro] said, 'When you haven't seen a guy like [Philadelphia starter Jamie] Moyer, you need to take a pitch and try to work the count a little bit,'" Pence said. "The same situation came up again, and I tried to slow myself down, see the ball and work the count. And I finally got a pitch I could do something with."
Starter Woody Williams (4-10) pitched very well for the Astros, lasting seven innings and allowing only three runs on six hits in 93 pitches. It was his second consecutive quality start.
"I think I'm finally starting to turn the corner," Williams said. "I'm not going to accept that [it's a bad season]. I think physically, everything's starting to click. I have a lot more confidence because I'm able to make the pitches I need to make in key situations."
The Astros added insurance runs in the seventh against relievers Brian Sanches and Jose Mesa, almost without hitting the ball. Lance Berkman drew a leadoff walk, and after Mike Lamb and Ausmus added a one-out single and two-out walk, respectively, Eric Bruntlett drove in a run with a bases-loaded walk on a 3-2 count.
Then, Mark Loretta pinch-hit for Williams and drew another 3-2 walk, putting the Astros in front, 6-3.
"We were able to lay off some tough pitches with two strikes," Loretta said of the two bases-loaded walks. "It doesn't mean you're not being aggressive. That's a good thing to do, but obviously not easy."
Carlos Lee launched a pitch from Mesa over the train tracks in the eighth for his 16th home run of the season, providing additional insurance.
The Phillies scored early with a first-inning sacrifice fly from Aaron Rowand, but the Astros matched it in the bottom half with a two-out RBI single to left-center from Lee.
Philadelphia briefly took the lead back with a solo home run in the second from Burrell. Berkman, however, responded in the next inning with a double to left-center off Moyer (7-6), scoring Pence to tie the game.
Ben DuBose is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.