Phillies Clinch 3rd NL East Title

A sea of white towels could be seen swirling through the crisp September air as the Philadelphia Phillies clinched the National League East title Wednesday night.

The Fightin' Phils secured their post-season spot after destroying the Houston Astros 10-3 at Citizens Bank Park in front of a capacity crowd. This is the third straight NL East title for the team who went on to become World Champions last season.

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Kyle Kendrick pitched three scoreless innings in relief of Pedro Martinez and the Phillies beat the Houston Astros 10-3 Wednesday night to clinch their third straight division crown.

Raul Ibanez hit his career-high 34th homer and Jimmy Rollins had a double and triple for Philadelphia, which is heading to the post-season for the third straight year for the first time since Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton and crew won three consecutive NL East titles from 1976-78.

The Phillies are trying to become the first repeat champions since the New York Yankees won three straight World Series from 1998-2000. The Cincinnati Reds were the last NL team to win two in a row in 1975-76.

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"You having fun?" All-Star second baseman Chase Utley asked fans who stayed for the party. "There's gonna be a lot more coming."

J.R. Towles, a career .187 hitter (43 for 230), hit a pair of solo homers off Martinez, a three-time Cy Young Award winner. But the Astros couldn't spoil Philadelphia's party.

Kendrick gave up two hits and struck out four. Martinez lasted just four innings, allowing three runs and six hits in his first start since a neck strain forced him out of a game at Atlanta on Sept. 19. Brad Lidge, who has 11 blown saves after a perfect season last year, came in to get the last out after Scott Eyre retired the first two batters in the ninth.

"I was praying I'd get into the game," said Lidge, who got a nice ovation when he entered. "I'm thankful to Charlie for putting me in. Despite my season, Charlie had my back all year."

Astros starter Brian Moehler (8-12) gave up seven runs in 4 1-3 innings.

A crowd of 45,207 -- the 38th straight sellout at Citizens Bank Park -- waved their white-and-red "Fightin' Phils" rally towels throughout the night and made the atmosphere festive.

Celebrations are becoming common for the Phillies, who used to be the NL's laughingstock. The losingest team in professional sports has been thinking dynasty since winning the franchise's second championship in 126 years last October.

"We didn't assume but we expected. There's a difference between the two," pitcher J.A. Happ said. "There's a whole lot more coming up, when we return."

Unlike the last two years, the Phillies didn't sweat out this division title. They moved into first place for good on May 30 and have spent 136 days atop the standings.

In 2007, the Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 remaining. They took advantage of New York's historic collapse and clinched the division on the final day of the regular season, ending a 14-year postseason drought.

Players and fans had a wild celebration and Philadelphia was promptly swept by Colorado in the division series.

Last year, the Phillies were three games behind the Mets with 17 to play. They caught them during the final week and clinched on the next-to-last day of the regular season.

With four games left this year, Manuel has a chance to rest his regulars and set up his postseason pitching rotation. The Phillies still have a chance to secure home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs. They entered the night one game behind Los Angeles.

"I feel like this was a little harder than the others because all year people were saying how good we are, but we've had pitching problems all season," Manuel said.

Midway during the celebration, the team jogged together to the outfield wall and poured champagne on the sign that honors late broadcaster Harry Kalas. The Hall of Fame announcer died in April after nearly 40 years with the team.

Martinez, who is 5-1 with a 3.63 ERA in nine starts, struggled from the start. He walked Hunter Pence to force in a run in the first and gave up homers to Towles in the second and fourth.

Towles' drive to left-center in the second was initially ruled a double, but umpires changed the call after reviewing the video. He easily cleared the left-field wall his next time up to give the Astros a 3-1 lead.

But the Phillies answered with four runs in the bottom half. Shane Victorino singled and stole second before Utley walked. Ryan Howard followed with an RBI single. Utley scored when Ibanez hit a bouncer to the mound and Moehler threw it into center field for an error. Howard advanced to third and Ibanez ended up on second.

Jayson Werth's RBI groundout put the Phillies ahead for good. Pedro Feliz doubled in another run to make it 5-3.

Rollins and Victorino hit back-to-back triples to start Philadelphia's fifth. Ibanez's sacrifice fly made it 7-3.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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