HOUSTON (AP) — No champagne. No wild celebration. The Philadelphia Phillies are back in the postseason for the fifth straight year, and that’s exactly what they expected.
Roy Halladay pitched his 20th career shutout and Philadelphia became the first team to reach the playoffs this season with a 1-0 victory over the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
The NL East leaders clinched at least a wild-card berth and will take another run at a ring in October. Philadelphia won the World Series in 2008 and took the NL pennant in 2009.
“That’s the beauty of being here,” Halladay said. “We expect to win. You convert to that quickly, coming from a team where that wasn’t the case. We had some big wins last year and come into the clubhouse and that’s where we expected to be.”
Once the Phillies signed ace pitcher Cliff Lee last winter to round out a dominant rotation, another playoff berth seemed inevitable. They said this week there would be no big party for wrapping up the wild card, and when Halladay finished off Houston he and his teammates barely cracked a smile.
Phillies players and manager Charlie Manuel simply lined up for handshakes and high-fives following their 95th win, just as if it were any other. The goal this season is a World Series championship, and anything short of that would hardly satisfy.
“It’s a great mentality to have,” Halladay said. “There’s business to be done and until that point, there’s not a lot of celebration.”
Philadelphia’s magic number is four for clinching its fifth straight division title.
“We want the World Series and we want to get there in a good position,” Manuel said. “We want to win our division and we want to have the best record. We want to give our players the best possible position.”
The Phillies, who had lost three in a row, needed a win over Houston or a loss by St. Louis on Wednesday to wrap up a playoff spot. The Cardinals beat Pittsburgh 3-2.
Shane Victorino doubled in the first inning and scored the only run on Placido Polanco’s single to help Philadelphia avoid a three-game sweep.
“We went out today and played good baseball,” Victorino said. “Unfortunately, we came up short a couple of innings when we had a chance to score.”
Halladay (18-5) escaped trouble in the second and seventh, finishing with seven strikeouts and one walk for his first shutout of the season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner gave up six hits and threw 114 pitches for his eighth complete game of the year, tops in the NL. The game took just 2 hours, 6 minutes.
“We gave him a big cushion to work with,” Manuel said, joking. “We motivated him. We came out and got him one big run. It was a good game. After we scored in the first inning, their pitching got pretty good, too.”
Looking ahead, Manuel would like to see more offensive production to go with his elite pitching staff.
“The biggest thing I’m concerned about is we’ve got to score some runs,” he said.
Houston loaded the bases in the second on Polanco’s error at third, a single by Brian Bogusevic and a bunt single by Jose Altuve. The threat ended quickly when Carlos Lee was forced at home and Humberto Quintero hit into a double play.
“It really came down to us having the bases loaded in the second inning with nobody out and us not being able to get anything across,” Astros manager Brad Mills said. “The guys have been putting themselves in position to have a chance to win games. Today we did that, too, but against a tough pitcher we weren’t able to get those runs across early.”
Halladay struck out pinch-hitter Matt Downs with a runner on second in the seventh to end that threat. Downs leads the majors with 12 pinch-hit RBIs.
The Phillies spoiled a strong seven innings by Bud Norris (6-10). Victorino doubled to start the game and scored on Polanco’s single.
“This was a tough one,” Norris said. “Four pitches into the game and I am down 1-0. Roy Halladay is Roy Halladay. These guys played tough the whole nine innings. It was a close game, a battle.”
After allowing the first-inning run, Norris retired 15 batters in a row before escaping a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth. He struck out Ryan Howard with a 94 mph fastball and Raul Ibanez flied out to end the inning.
Norris gave up four hits, struck out three and walked one.
“We know this is a learning process for us, and I remember going up there last year and sweeping them in four games,” Norris said. “I remember what that meant to us as a team, so I hope these guys can learn from this, build on it, and we can move forward.”
NOTES: The Phillies are 17-24 at Minute Maid Park. … The Astros are 32-21 against Philadelphia since 2004, the best record of any NL team against the Phillies. … The Astros currently have 16 rookies – 10 pitchers and six position players. … Philadelphia clinched a playoff spot in a franchise-best 146 games. The 1915 Phillies did it in 147 games.
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