HOUSTON (AP) - Sitting on 99 losses, the Houston Astros had reason to blare the celebration music in the postgame clubhouse Saturday night.
Lifted by an early lead and a strong start by Dallas Keuchel, Houston blanked the Philadelphia Phillies 5-0 to temporarily avoid a second consecutive 100-loss season.
Justin Maxwell hit a two-run home run, and Keuchel pitched 5 1-3 scoreless innings - allowing five hits and four walks- for his first win in nearly three months, as the Astros beat Philadelphia for the second time in three games.
The Phillies were slowed in their surge for an NL playoff spot for the second time in three games by the worst team in the big leagues. Philadelphia entered the day three games behind St. Louis for the final wild-card spot. The Cardinals played the Dodgers later Saturday.
Keuchel (2-7) admitted to being aware of the looming milestone loss but said it didn't affect his performance.
``Actually, I don't normally pay attention to the wins and losses, but I looked before the game and saw that we had 99 losses,' Keuchel said. ``But it's nothing I worry about. I just try to do my job and help the team win.'
It was Keuchel's first win in 11 starts, since his previous victory on June 23 against Cleveland.
``I'm real happy for Keuchel,' Astros manager Tony DeFrancesco said. ``He battled out of a couple of tough jams, and I wanted to make sure the kid got a win when he came out. I'm real proud of him.'
Keuchel struggled with location early, walking two in the first inning as the Phillies loaded the bases. But Keuchel got Ty Wigginton to fly out to end the threat, and Philadelphia stranded eight baserunners through the first four innings.
``The first inning for him has been a problem so far,' DeFrancesco said. ``If we can get him confident from when he comes out of the bullpen to when he crosses the line, he can do well.'
Keuchel escaped another bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning to frustrate the Phillies.
``He made pitches when he needed to,' Phillies catcher Erik Kratz said.
In addition to raising Keuchel's confidence, DeFrancesco said he believed victories against teams competing for a spot in the playoffs can bring a much needed morale boost.
``Today was the day where they all believed in themselves,' DeFrancesco said. ``Tomorrow is another day. If we can be the spoiler and give our guys some success and confidence, that's what we're looking for.'
After Keuchel's exit in the sixth, the Houston bullpen held on for the Astros' largest margin of victory in more than a month. The Phillies finished with seven hits and 12 runners left on base.
Houston reliever Mickey Storey made his first appearance since taking a line drive to the jaw area in Wednesday's 5-1 loss to Chicago. Storey struck out the only two batters he faced, improving his opponent's batting average to .179 in 19 appearances this season.
``If there's an unsung hero in that bullpen, I think it has to be Mickey Storey,' DeFrancesco said.
The Houston bullpen has posted a 3.27 ERA in 52 1-3 innings in September, helping the Astros to a 7-7 record this month.
Wesley Wright allowed one hit to Kevin Frandsen with two outs in the ninth inning before getting Chase Utley to ground out to end the game.
``They had chances, but we made pitches,' DeFrancesco said. ``The ball went our way today.'
Kyle Kendrick (9-11) struggled early and was done after just five innings, his shortest outing in more than a month. He gave up four runs on seven hits, including a Maxwell's homer in the first inning. It was Maxwell's 16th home run of the season. Jose Altuve led off the inning with a single.
The Phillies blew a 4-0 lead in Friday's 6-4 loss to Houston (47-99) to open the four-game series, a loss that snapped a seven-game winning streak.
Altuve, Brett Wallace and J.D. Martinez added RBIs for the Astros, whose 34-23 record against Philadelphia since 2004 is tops in the NL.
Altuve drove in Matt Dominguez in the second to make it 3-0 Astros. Wallace drove in a run with a ground-rule double in the fifth inning.
NOTES: Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he plans to start C Carlos Ruiz every other game beginning Sunday. Ruiz, who pinch-hit Saturday, continues to recover from plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which landed him in the DL last month. . Astros infielder Tyler Greene will start at 2B on Sunday as manager Tony DeFrancesco gives Altuve some much-needed rest. ... SS Jimmy Rollins stole two bases, giving him 29 for the season, including a major league-leading 12 steals of third base.
The Associated Press News Service
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