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PHI@HOU: Halladay hurls a complete-game shutout

HOUSTON -- Two things resulted from Philadelphia's 1-0 win over Houston on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park. First, the Phils clinched at least a National League Wild Card spot. And second, the Astros lost their 98th game, which set a club mark for most losses in a season.

With the win in their 146th game, the Phillies eclipsed the 1915 club (No. 147) as the fastest in team history to clinch a playoff berth.

The Phillies, in addition to being the first team to clinch a postseason spot, also reduced their magic number to four for claiming a fifth consecutive National League East title.

And it's nice to have a Roy Halladay on your team.

Halladay (18-5) scattered six hits and struck out seven in a complete-game effort to become the first Phillies pitcher with back-to-back 18-plus wins in a season since Steve Carlton did it in 1979-80. He also improved to 10-1 in 13 day-game starts this season.

"Roy did a heck of a job," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "He had good command. Especially the young hitters, he threw them a lot of offspeed stuff. He didn't throw them a lot of fastballs that they could get to.

"Today, with the young hitters, he was getting them to chase the slow stuff and down. Where he's putting the ball is what really counts. But that comes with a lot of preparation and he's always ready."

Astros left-fielder J.D. Martinez, who had the best looks and made the best contact off Halladay, said he was still baffled by the two-time Cy Young Award winner.

"He's just one of those pitchers where you get in there and you see his pitches and you feel good, you feel confident off of him," Martinez said. "And then you swing and the ball's not where you think it's going to be, or it just misses your barrel. You're like, 'Oh, I thought I was right on it.'

"He's got a lot of weapons. He's considered the best pitcher in the game for a reason, and he's tough because you never know which way the ball is going to move off of him. That's what makes him so hard to hit."

Houston slugging first baseman Carlos Lee was equally impressed.

"That was one of the best performances I've seen this year," Lee said. "The guy was great. He didn't throw anything on the heart of the plate. Everything was cutting or sinking. We had a chance, but he got out of it and made great pitches. That's why he's one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the [game]."

Halladay worked out of a second-inning jam but did not allow more than one baserunner in the other eight innings. It was his 66th career complete game, and eighth this season.

The Astros loaded the bases with no outs in the second before Halladay coaxed two ground balls, the latter resulting in a 5-4-3 inning-ending double play.

"There are times where you feel like you can pitch your pitch and not worry about a big inning," Halladay said. "You're just focused on trying to make pitches.

"I felt like I was a pitch away [from getting out of trouble]. Even with nobody out. I feel like I can make a quality pitch there, and the odds are in my favor if I do it."

Halladay is another piece to the Phillies puzzle that drives the expectations of this team.

"That's the reason you're here," he said. "We expect to win, and you get converted to that quickly. It's a great mentality to have.

"To know we're going [to the playoffs], obviously there's some work that we want to get done -- and obviously trying to win the division and get ourselves home field -- but going to the playoffs is always a thrill. That's the ultimate reason you're playing the game."

The Phillies scored just two batters into the game off Astros starter Bud Norris (6-10). Shane Victorino led off with a double and scored on a Placido Polanco single.

That was enough offense for Halladay.

"When he takes the mound you know what it's about," Victorino said. "It's about business. It's about going out there with that mentality that he wants to win, every pitch, every out."

The Phils snapped a three-game losing streak, and in doing so they also averted a season-high-tying four-game losing streak. Philadelphia has lost three straight on three occasions this season, but remains the only team in baseball not to be swept in a series of three-or-more games.

With the win, the Phillies moved to 12-5 in the midst of a stretch of 33 games in 31 days to end the regular season. They have 16 games remaining in 14 days, including a doubleheader at home with Florida on Thursday.

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