(Sports Network) - The Philadelphia Phillies had a hard time scoring runs in Monday's opener of their four-game series with the Houston Astros, a scenario Cole Hamels has become quite familiar with during the course of this season.
Hamels will attempt to end a long and frustrating winless streak, while his Phillies teammates hope to give the hard-luck pitcher some offensive support when the two-time defending National League champions take on the Astros again tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
It's been well over a month since Hamels obtained his last victory, which took place against Cincinnati on July 11, even though the former World Series MVP has pitched well enough to win on several occasions during his seven-start drought. The left-hander has allowed one run or less while lasting at least seven innings four times over that span, and he's posted a sound 2.87 earned run average during his winless period.
Hamels has been dealt defeats in each of his last three starts, with the Phillies mustering a mere two runs over the course of those games. He struck out 11 batters and yielded one run over seven innings in a 1-0 setback to the New York Mets on August 7, then lost by an identical score to the same team six days later despite giving up just one run and fanning eight in an eight- inning complete game.
The 26-year-old had no one but himself to blame for last Thursday's home loss to San Francisco, however, after he was tagged for five runs on seven hits in a subpar five-inning stint.
Hamels does own a 3-2 record over seven lifetime starts against Houston, but lost both of his two encounters with the Astros last season while surrendering 10 runs and 17 hits over a combined 12 2/3 innings.
The Phillies also couldn't come up with many big hits in last night's clash with the Astros, who came through with a 3-2 triumph on Carlos Lee's clutch two-run single with two outs in the top of the eighth inning.
Trailing 2-1 entering the eighth, one-time Phillie Jason Michaels greeted reliever Ryan Madson (4-2) with a single to start the frame and Michael Bourn followed with a bunt base hit in which he eluded a tag attempt from Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard. Both runners would then move up a base on a sacrifice before Lee fisted a broken-bat single to left that put the Astros in front.
The hit made a winner of ex-Phillie Brett Myers (9-7), who held his former club to two runs and racked up nine strikeouts over the first seven innings. Tim Byrdak came on to pitch a scoreless eighth before Brandon Lyon closed out the victory with a shutout ninth.
"It's always good to get a win. I don't think it really has anything to do with who you beat at the time," said Myers, who spent eight seasons in Philadelphia before signing a free-agent contract with the Astros in January. "This one feels pretty good, just to be able to beat the team I spent my entire career."
Bourn, another former Phillie, finished 3-for-4 with a pair of steals and two runs scored from the leadoff spot, while Lee collected two hits in four at- bats on the night.
The Phillies scored both their runs off Myers in the second inning, with Carlos Ruiz belting a solo homer and Chase Utley later delivering a run- scoring single. Philadelphia recorded 10 hits for the game, but stranded eight baserunners in losing for only the fifth time in its last 24 contests at Citizens Bank Park.
"We're supposed to hit, the bottom line is we were built to hit," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "When you look and you see some of our guys struggling, our numbers are way behind."
Phils starter Joe Blanton was in line for the win after limiting the Astros to one run over seven innings prior to giving way to Madson. The right-hander registered a season-high nine strikeouts and did not walk a batter.
Despite the loss, Philadelphia remained 2 1/2 games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East race after the Braves fell to Colorado on Monday. However, the Phillies' lead atop the league's Wild Card standings was trimmed to just one game after both St. Louis and San Francisco won last night.
Houston will shoot for a third consecutive win tonight behind the resurgent Bud Norris, who hasn't lost in five straight starts and pitched brilliantly in each of his last two times out.
Norris struck out a career-high 14 Pittsburgh batters and allowed just two runs over seven innings on August 14, then recorded his fourth winning decision in a row in a 3-2 verdict over the Mets on Thursday. The second-year major leaguer permitted two runs and only two hits through seven sharp frames in that one.
The young right-hander, now 6-7 on the season, gets an opportunity to atone for a rough season debut against Philadelphia back on April 9, when he was reached for three runs on six hits and walked four batters in a shaky 2 2/3 innings while receiving a loss. Norris did defeat the Phillies in Houston last September, though, by tossing six frames of two-run ball and notching six strikeouts.
Houston won six of eight meetings with the Phillies in 2009, but was swept by Philadelphia in a three-game set at Minute Maid Park in April.