Not the Astros… Not Now

With a 35-21 record since the All-Star break, the Phillies have finally gotten over the .500 mark at 72-71. With 19 games left to play, they are a mere three games behind the Cardinals for the elusive second wild-card berth in the National League.

With Jimmy Rollins playing like a superhero, Kyle Kendrick pitching like a fourth ace, and the lineup and bullpen rounding into form, the Phillies are at their strongest at the most important time of the year. And with a fairly easy upcoming schedule pitting them against the Astros and Mets, the Phils could realistically enter the stretch-run on very solid footing.

Yet… there is something unsettling about this weekend’s four-game set with the Astros.

I don’t usually lend much credence to stats against a specific team, because “team” is an evolving term. The Astros of 2005 are not the Astros of 2009. David Bell‘s numbers against Brandon Backe have no bearing on how Chase Utley and the rest of this current Phillies squad will fare against Bud Norris.

Having said that, allow me to briefly throw numbers out of the window and admit that I am completely and utterly terrified of the Astros heading into this crucial series, whether or not they’re 12-45 since the All-Star break.

Late-season meetings with the Astros conjure up horrific memories of yesteryear, when the playoff-hopeful Phillies hurt their cause by losing, often in dramatic fashion, to Houston teams. On paper, the Phillies should throttle Houston. But the Astros shouldn’t be slept on, and the Phils have played so poorly against the Astros late in recent years that splitting the series or losing it probably won’t come as a surprise to most fans.

Devoted Phillies fans dating back to at least the mid-2000s likely don’t need any more information to understand my fear of the Astros. However, for the uninitiated, let’s recap the late-season meetings of these two teams over the past several seasons.

• Last year didn’t matter so much, as the Phillies had a playoff berth wrapped up early. However, it became clear that the Phils were looking to establish a franchise record for wins in a single season, and losing two of three to the Astros from September 12-14 was a setback. Losing to Houston made that goal tougher to achieve.

• In 2010, the Astros swept the Phillies in a four-game series from August 23-26.

• The year before that, the Phillies and Astros played eight times in September. The Astros swept the Phillies in four games from September 4-7, and split another four-game set from September 28-October 1. The Phillies made the playoffs thanks to the mid-season acquisition of Cliff Lee, but going 2-6 against the Astros in September certainly wasn’t part of the plan.

From 2009-11, the Phillies were 3-12 against the Astros from August-onward.

Travel back in time a few more years and we stumble upon arguably the most demoralizing moment of the Jimmy Rollins era (defined as 2001-now, as his emergence that season was a clear era-defining point in Phillies history). September 7, 2005, a day that will live on in Phillies infamy as the Wagner-Biggio game.

I was sitting in the Pollock Computer Lab at Penn State’s main campus, as I didn’t have Comcast in my apartment, and for some reason wouldn’t allow me to stream games while in my bedroom. I don’t know if it had something to do with recognizing my IP address as Philadelphia or what, but I was stuck spending the night in a public computer lab to watch this extremely important game.

The Phillies entered at 73-66, and the Astros were 74-64. A measly 1.5 games separated the teams. Two days earlier, the Phillies were 73-64, a half-game ahead of the 72-64 Astros in the wild-card standings. The Phillies had dropped the first two games of the series, 4-3 and 2-1, and were trailing the Astros with limited time left. The best way to distance yourself from a team on your heels is to beat them directly, and the Phillies had failed to increase their lead over the Astros. At the very least, salvaging one game in the series could keep things close and leave more of their destiny in their own hands.

The matchup featured the aforementioned Backe against Vicente Padilla. It was a back-and-forth contest, and a very fun game to watch up until the top of the ninth inning. After trailing, 5-3, the Phillies scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 6-5 lead. Bobby Abreu hit a two-run homer scoring Jason Michaels, and Shane Victorino later singled in Ryan Howard. Bell was thrown out at the plate on the same play to end the inning. That was a run the Phillies would desperately need.

Billy Wagner entered the game looking to put away his former team, and from the get-go it sure seemed like something different was going to happen in this particular outing. Even after Wagner quickly dispatched of the light-hitting law firm of Ausmus & Everett, P.C., something didn’t quite feel right. Maybe that’s hindsight driving the narrative, but screw it, I’m telling the story. Jose Vizcaino then hit a grounder to third base that Bell bobbled. It wasn’t a difficult play, and it should have ended the game.

Willy Taveras came up, and this was back when that actually mattered to the opposing pitcher. He proceeded to hit a little dribbler that Rollins stayed back on just long enough for Taveras to reach. Of course he reached.

At this point, a few other Phillies fans had migrated over to my computer and we all looked at each other nervously, as if we knew what was about to happen. On the 1-1 offering, Craig Biggio crushed a three-run homer to left field. You couldn’t hear pin drops because, come on, the stadium was packed and even if everyone was quiet it would be tough to hear a pin drop, but the stadium had its life sucked out.

Nobody knew how to react until a chorus of boos exploded from the Citizens Bank Park phaithful. Then the realization set in… holy shit, the Astros are now up 8-6. WHAT!? WHAT JUST HAPPENED!? The Phillies had this game locked up! They had it locked up! How could Wagner blow two games in a row against this team!? Come on!

Click here for audio from the Astros feed that night if you want to relive this awful Phillies moment. Harry Kalas’s call was even better, and the man himself once admitted to Angelo Cataldi that it was his most somber call. It went something like “2 hits, 1 error, 3 runs – all of them unearned, but who cares?”

An error and a dinky infield single extended what should have been an easy 1-2-3 inning, which allowed Biggio to hit the homer that effectively sunk the Phillies’ playoff hopes. The Phillies were then 2.5 games behind the Astros, and though it came down to the season’s final day, getting swept and losing that specific September 7 game was the dagger.

Now, that game obviously means nothing compared to the September 13-16 series in Houston this year, but these two teams have late-season histories. While stats against specific teams are typically useless splits, and I’ll be the first to tell anyone that, my inner fan doesn’t care. The Phillies have fought and clawed their way back above .500 and now have a realistic, albeit still-not-that-likely, shot at the postseason.

It may sound strange to suggest that the friggin’ 45-97 Astros represent their biggest test of the season, but the Phils have to consider it a failure if they win fewer than three games in this series. While recent history really shouldn’t matter all that much to the outcome of this series, it certainly suggests that these four games will be anything but easy, regardless of the talent disparity between the teams.

Here’s to hoping that the Phillies can exorcise their September 7, 2005 demons this weekend and use this Astros squad as a springboard to a playoff berth once thought unattainable.

Click to comment


  1. David

    September 13, 2012 at 9:17 am

    I was at that game. Here was my belated recap of it –

  2. The Original Chuck P

    September 13, 2012 at 10:20 am

    I really hope you don’t regret writing this post…

    Pitching match ups, anyone?
    Cloyd (RHP, 4.24 ERA) v. Abad (L, 5.08)
    Hamels (L, 3.03) v. Harrell (R, 3.83)
    Kendrick (R, 3.83) v. Norris (R, 4.93)
    Halladay (R, 4.01) v. Gonzalez (R, 1.74)
    Lee (L, 3.36) v. Dickey (R, 2.68)

    As we know, this is a huge four game series. While the pitching match ups are favorable, there are no gimme’s and everyone knows that we can’t take the Astros lightly. Cloyd is still an unknown commodity and this is a no-day off travel day across time zones (Abad is known to be a bad pitcher so… but he’s a lefty and as a team, our BA against LH starters is almost 20 points lower), Hamels draws the Astros most consistent starter (Hamels > Harrell but I could see that one being a low scoring game), Kendrick gets Norris (I hate this match up… look at Norris’ home/away splits this year – he’s 3-1 with a 1.90 ERA at home this year) and Halladay gets Gonzalez who is due for a dud, we hope.

    It would be nice to see them drop a crooked number on Abad early tonight to set the tone – get the ‘Stros bullpen out of sorts and give Cloyd some room to work with.

  3. Ryne Duren

    September 13, 2012 at 10:50 am

    yea eric i’m so worried about these guys! our phils have to just play the game like houston has 100 wins! don’t take any prisoners. the phils all year have played down to their opponant. ( for the most part they’ve done that for some years now) hopefully because of past experiences and the need for them to win will overshadow that. in the past when they’ve played far inferior teams they did that with a div. lead. now it could be different though, because you know as well as i, that the phils tend to play their best ball with their backs against the wall! here’s hoping. GO PHILS

  4. Ryne Duren

    September 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

    eric i was just checking the schedules and i notice something interesting. i firmly believe the phils have a great chance to get to the second wildcard spot. however in checking the schedule s i saw that the nats play the cards on sept 28-30. what scares me is that the nats do not want to face the phils in a playoff series at all with the pitching we have and how we’re playing. that is assuming that we’re still playing this well at that point.
    do you think that the nats who would have the div. wrapped up at that point would play like the phils did against atlanta with integrity? or would they lay down to make it harder on the phils to achieve the 2cd wildcard for fear of facing them in the playoffs? what are your thoughts on that?

    • Ken Bland

      September 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm


      Mind if I answer that, even though you asked Eric’s view?

      Hope not.

      I think you might be confusing the Nats with the Nats fans. I would think the Nats themselves view is they need to get through good pitching staffs to win it all no matter what, and besdies that, if anyone is more fearful of the Phillies pitching than the Giants, they might wanna schedule an eye doc appointment. It’s not light year’s apart, but the Phil certainly don’t have much edge, which I don’t think is the case anyway. The Phils staff is quite capable, but Doc isn’t exactly Doc right now. and it’s not like Cole and Cliff are automatic 2 hit shutouts. I mean they are very good, and you can be confident, but I personally wouldn’t get overconfident. As for KK, you might even classify him in the same class as Cole and Cliff of late, but let’s not get carried away. This would be a huge step up for him, starting in the postseason, which I don’t know to be money in the bank.

      With Zimmerman and Gio, when he limits his walks, the Nats themselves are a source of fear, and The Braves offer troublesome starters themselves.

      Any talk you hear about not wanting to face the Phiols in the playoffs is maybe somewhat credible, but a littl blown out of proportion.

      I hope those fears are tested is all I can say for now.

      • Ryne Duren

        September 13, 2012 at 1:39 pm

        no ken i don’t mind at all! and yes you are right with the points you brought up. i’m just gettin jittery i guess. i didn’t think we’d get this close, although i was hoping we would. and now that we’re close, the heebee jeebees are kicking in. lol

      • Ken Bland

        September 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm

        Thanks, Ryne.

        Lemme add something that in real time might be a challenge to the Nats players themselves, if they fac the Phils. Used to be you couldn’t play a divvy opponent in the first round. No mas. Say the Phils win the playin, and would match up with the Nats. The first 2 games are in the underseed, park, then the divvy champ hosts the would be final 3. I doubt the Nats are losing sleep over that much right now, but this club gets to the playoffs, we can’t imagine how rock solid fired up the 45k plus would be for Game 1. And our guys have by and large been there and done that atmosphere. Chances are a kid like Bryce thrives on that, but you have to remember he is only 20, and that’s a challenging atmosphere to walk into. Werth, of course, played in that, and knows the drill, but he can only tell his teammates to calm down so much without them needing to fight the emotion. I mean, they should be okay, Davey seems a very good manager, but that’s potentially when something like Stras not being there maybe works in your head.

        In that way, the Nats would do well to face another opponent. But I wouldn’t plan on them letting the Cards win to avoid the Phils. The Cards have some threatening capability themselves, though with no Albert and no Berkmann, this isn’t the 2011 Redbirds.

        So much thinking, and so much guessing. What will be will be, and we’ll hope for the best.
        Nice to at least be in a position to talk about it.

  5. TheDipsy

    September 13, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Are you serious? The Astros stink and the Phillies are jacked. This could play a team of blind nuns and be sky high for the games. Its playoff baseball baby.

    The Dipsy

  6. Ken Bland

    September 13, 2012 at 12:02 pm

    If you’re gonna dig in the archives and apply history to a view of this series, there’s always 1980, when the Phils trailed 5-2, top 8 against Nolan Ryan, who was 115-2 when leading going into the 8th. By the way, that was career, not that year. You should have heard Harry call Del Unser’s triple that inning, part of a 5 run inning that led to The Secretary of Defense squeezing the ball, and Andy Musser screaming, “they go to the Worl Series for the first time in 30 years.”

    The past is irrelavant. 2011, as much as 1980.

    With some altered thinking, I believe the Phils need a sweep, and the Dodgers to win 3 of 4.
    Even that’s irrelavant. One pitch at a time is the only thing that matters. The only fear that anyone should feel is that the Phils beat themselves, although it’s not unreasonable to be worried that the Stros could get some timely hitting or pitching.

    • Ryne Duren

      September 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

      ken i was thinking on the lines of a sweep of the astros (cross your fingers), and the cards and dodgers split and we pick up ground on both! don’t get me wrong though i wouldn’t cry if the dodgers did take 3 of 4. i was thinking more on the lines that we’d catch them anyway if we continue to win. it would be cool to leapfrog both of them and the pirates all in a matter of a couple days.

      • Ken Bland

        September 13, 2012 at 4:01 pm

        I’ve revised my thinking still again. Like it matters. But I do believe the Phils need a sweep, but if it’s just 3 of 4, which under normal circumstances is still pretty good, it gets even tougher.

        Here’s my thinking. Phils are 3 back of the Cards, who play the Stros and Cubs for 9 right after. It’s asking a lot for them to lose much.

        The Dodgers, who I don’t think are all that good to begin with (they aren’t terrible, but beyond Kershaw, I wouldn’t trust their rotation still have to play the Nats and Reds. Dodgers take 3 of 4, or sweep, they still face some obstacles.

        So get an edge on the Cardinals as best you can. But as AFW has voiced many times, and as we all know, first priority is the Phils winning. Ain’t no party without that action. And while win bleeping out appeals to emotion and not reality, the Phils still might find that 18 of the last 22 just isn’t enough. It’s a reasonable goal, but this is still gonna be tough, but there’s no reason not to be completely fired up.

  7. Andrew from Waldorf

    September 13, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Dipsy the boys play at 8 tonight.

    Respect Houston

  8. Lefty

    September 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Yes the Astros, Yes now. But fear not, the weakest team in the NL is about to leave, this could be the last time we get to play them for quite a while. I say take advantage of that opportunity while you have it.

  9. MplsPhilsFan

    September 13, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Eric, I had been feeling good about the Phillies chances but then you had to bring up all of those memories of late season lossses to the Astros that I had surpressed.

    If one were to objectively look at this matchup, it would appear as though the Phillies should win at least 3 of the 4 games, but there is nothing logical about this season.

    Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking (maybe re-watching Airplane! will help)

  10. Bruce

    September 13, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    Wow! I quote Eric Seidman..”..Phils have to consider it a failure if they win fewer than three games in this series.” I call that wild-eye optimism (chuckles).

    I know it’s imperative for the Phillies to try win every game here on out but the realist in me thinks that may be asking too much. I’ll settle for 3 out of 4. After all, tonight you have a rookie pitcher, Tyler Cloyd, who has been with the club less than 2 weeks and looked hittable in his last outing much like the early career of Kyle Kendrick. And the offense have not exactly been hitting the cover off the ball. The current win streak is due to great pitching, hustle and timely hitting.

    I don’t want to be a kill-joy here, but the Phillies are running out of games and still have to contend with and “leapfrog” several teams. And can one honestly think ALL of these teams will go into a slump at the same time? Take a look at the Milwaukee Brewers; all of sudden they are playing winning basball. That’s just one example.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I love to see the Phillies pull another “miracle” out of the hat..ala St. Louis Cards of last season. However, I’m being even keel with my emotions and keep my expectations within reason. Whatever happens, it’s a great satisfaction for me to see the Phillies (after Amaro decided to go the route of “salary dumping”) winning games and finishing the season on a positive note and a brighter outlook for next season.

  11. Jaron B

    September 13, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    Eric, WE ARE PENN STATE!!! Great points here! I remember 2005 vividly: The Phils had won their final game but the Cubs lost to the Astros, putting the Phils a game back of a one-game playoff in Philly for a WC spot.

    That was around the time I started following them closely: I went to a few games at the Vet in the early 2000s, which got me interested in baseball (and the Phils).

  12. George

    September 13, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    I’m not as concerned with the Astros as I am with the law of averages. The Phils have a seven game winning streak, and sooner or later it almost has to end if only because of a bad bounce. It’s the nature of the game, and the opponent doesn’t always matter.

    If the streak does end in Houston, and I hope it doesn’t, a new one must start immediately afterward.

  13. Dave P

    September 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    There are two series that begin tonight, critical to the phils playoff hopes:


    Best case scenario, and the one that has me counting all of my chickens before they hatch, is this – Phillies put together an incredible string of games and sweep the series, putting their record at 76-71. Dodgers either win two or three of their four game set with the cards, which will put the Dodgers and the Cardinals records at 77-70 and 76-71 (depending on whether the dodgers split or take 3 out of 4 determines who’s ahead).

    The Phillies would then be 1 GAME OUT WITH 15 TO PLAY.

    Yes we can!

  14. TheDipsy

    September 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Hey, I hear ya, the Astros are a major league baseball team. FEAR??? the Astros??? Every major league team deserves respect. But if someone is applying ancient history to make it seem like the Astros are a bugaboo I’m not buying it. There are gonna be two hits all weekend. We hit the Astros and they hit the ground.

    OK, I’m pumped. To let you know, i’ve been taking sh!t off of my old lady for months now for continuing to watch the Phillies. Now she wants to jump BACK on the bandwagon. Uh uh. Stay out of the man cave. If you wanna watch the Phils go up in the bedroom.

    Tyler “I’m Not Pretty, Boy” Floyd is gonna screw their bats in the ground tonite, yo. Oh farewell and adieu to my spanish young aldies….

    The Dipsy

  15. TheDipsy

    September 13, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    *fair spanish ladies.

    The Dipsy

  16. racketball shoes

    September 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm

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  17. scruf

    September 13, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    I get the “too many teams to jump” argument, but I’m not buying into it. Pittsburgh is a non-issue, and the Dodgers and Cards are fading. I’m actually hoping the Cards/Dodgers split their upcoming series, trading games the whole series so they don’t get a sense of gaining momentum. We just need to outlast the Brewers, which we can do, mainly because we’re better than them on the road, and our pitching is better.

    All of that aside, we just need to win. Realistically, do we go 19-0? Absolutely not. But this is playoff baseball, and the unexpected can happen. The Phillies are finding ways to win, and that’s all that counts. We feel it, they feel it, and so do the teams we need to “leapfrog”.

  18. Ken Bland

    September 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    Here’s more Phillies-Houston history, which of course has zero chance to enter the clubhouse mentality, as opposed to dating back to 2005, which could be a source of focus for the core that’s been here a while.

    But when the Colt 45s entered the League in 1962, I don’t recall the Phils record versus them that year, but the next year, the Phils won 17 of 18 against the Colts. So for the one person (moi) that’s scoping this from a unique historic perspective, minimal attention that is being spent on it, I look at it like this. The Phils welcomed Houston to the League with an assault of win, and now, before they fade into the AL West, the goal is to bounce them out with the same definitiveness with which they were greeted.

  19. Chuck A.

    September 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Pittsburgh is a non-issue?? Really?? Not so fast there, scruffy. I wouldn’t put it past them to right THEIR ship and be a force to be reckoned with over the next 3 weeks. Listen….we have 3 teams to get past and one right there with us and all those teams got to this point …. being a contender…for a reason…. They are good enough to be there. Anybody that thinks this is gonna be easy needs to have his or her head examined. And I really still don’t think they get it done. I just don’t. The obstacles are just too great. Too many things have to fall into place. I hopeful but realistically very skeptical.

    I am going on record as saying that I think the Eagles and Michael Vick have a better chance of beating the Ravens this Sunday than the Phillies making the postseason.

    • Ken Bland

      September 13, 2012 at 7:12 pm

      “Listen….we have 3 teams to get past and one right there with us and all those teams got to this point …. being a contender…for a reason…. They are good enough to be there.”

      I don’t know, Chuck, I think there’s a difference between setting up for the stretch drive, and then performing in it, let alone the post season.

      This McCutcheon is such a fabulous talent, but they are so dependent on him, and I just don’t know that he can carry them over the finish line. Additionally, while talent and execution are the primary factors of performance, if you look at the Pirates, after last year, and recently, on what basis do they think they can win? Compare that to the Phils, who have tons of winning experience, the Dodgers, who at least had a major financial infusion, and carry a message that ownership cares. It wouldn’t take much momentum for the Pirates to gain some confidence, which they could parlay, but that’s a difficult thing to see developing. I’m not saying Clint Hurdle gets fired, but after 2 years in a row of competing for a good while, but hitting a wall, they might do well to look at him, or some things they are doing before moving forward. Doesn’t mean the answer isn’t just to keep trying to improve personnel, but until they show they can climb the wall, it’s tough to see them finishing strong. if they can win 3-4 in a row, they warrant consideration. Big if.

    • Lefty

      September 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

      There are very few of us realists left. Somebody here wanted me to give up on them before the summer even started, and now he’s back believing.

      I know you join me in hoping we’re wrong, but we’re not. I’m very proud of them anyway.

  20. Devin

    September 13, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Chuck, I agreed with everything you said until the very end, because that Eagles thing was easily the most meaningless statement I have ever read.

  21. TheDipsy

    September 13, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    Chuck, the Eagles are favored. With 22 games or so left, the Phillies right now are the have the best schedule and the best pitching. The Pirates are the Pirates. So that disqualifies them immediately. And the Phils are just playing better than the other two at the right time of the year. 3 games is NOT a lot.

    The Dipsy

  22. Chuck A.

    September 13, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    How is that meaningless? The Eagles sucked against the Browns, had no business winning that game and Vick looked terrible. The Ravens are a good team, a better team than the Eagles. But the Eagles have a BETTER chance of winning that game than the Phillies do of making the playoffs.

    • Devin

      September 13, 2012 at 7:31 pm

      Because A) The two things aren’t even remotely related. And
      B) If in the first game next season the Phillies lost to, say, Miami, and I said “Great, the Phillies suck this year” You would rightfully call me an idiot. You don’t know jack shit about this years Eagles yet because they have only played one game. 1 game, in NO SPORT, is a meaningful sample from which to draw conclusions, and you’re being silly to try.

  23. scruf

    September 13, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    Chuck A. – I know what I’m saying sounds completely retarded. I’m just going with my gut (that means jack to anyone on this site, I know). I definitely don’t think it’ll be easy, but I do think the Phils will get it done. I still think the Pirates are done, but I’ll give you that – they could technically right their ship and blow away the competition.

    The difference is, this is our thing. We’re the team that doesn’t die and fights back. Pittsburgh doesn’t know how to dig deep and win when it’s absolutely necessary. If we’re going to be realistic, I think it’s fair to say the Phils will finish better than the Pirates.

  24. scruf

    September 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

    Plus, the Phils have absolutely nothing to fear right now. If they fall short, it’s no big deal, they still made a hell of a run at the end of the year. Every other team in playoff contention knows that right now, and it’s truly affecting teams like STL and LA. Phils just need to take it one game at a time and play their butts off, and it’ll happen.

  25. DavidE

    September 13, 2012 at 7:20 pm

    Do you have to be licensed to offer specialized counseling to Phillies fans? If you don’t need a professional degree, I would be glad to cure the author of his unfounded fears regarding the Houston Astros. I would be glad to do this for only $300 per hour. Or maybe a double session at only $200 per hour where I could also cure you of your fear of the New York Mets. Other than the fact that the Phillies must not take lightly anyone they play, why would you be particularly concerned about the Astros? Who would you rather have a four game road series against now? Let’s get real.

    • brooks

      September 13, 2012 at 7:49 pm

      As my dear friend and Phils companion said at the beggining of this year, its good to see the taillights sometimes… the Phils need to get the chase on and they are responding. The pitching has been phenominal and when it falters we’re scraping for some runs.

      All told, watching the Phils is great baseball.

  26. Cs

    September 16, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Wow what a shit series

  27. Pingback: Phillies at Astros « Phillies Brasil

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