Old Friends Look To Hurt Phils' Chances

You never know when a transaction is going to come back to bite you in the... well, you know. On Saturday, two former Phillies will step into the spotlight, looking to hurt the chances of their old buddies in Philadelphia. Ezequiel Astacio and Eric Milton may have fond memories of Philly, but there are no soft spots when they're on the mound.

In separate moves after the 2003 season, Ezequiel Astacio exited Philadelphia while Eric Milton arrived. Astacio was part of a package sent to Houston for closer Billy Wagner, who had worn out his welcome with the Astros. Milton came to the Phillies from Minnesota in exchange for Carlos Silva and Nick Punto. Wagner bolstered the bullpen, while Milton was a pseudo ace of the rotation coming into the season.

While the prospect of getting Wagner was simply too great to pass up, the Phillies and many fans hated the idea of giving up young talent like Brandon Duckworth and especially Ezequiel Astacio. While Astacio had not reached the majors with the Phillies, he was thought to be close - very close. In fact, he was considered more of a loss than Duckworth, who had pitched in the majors, although without a great amount of success. While many fans had thought that Astacio would make his major league debut with the Phillies, perhaps as early as 2004, it turned out that his debut had to wait until 2005 and it came as a member of the Houston Astros.

It was early May and the Astros needed a starter for a game against Pittsburgh. They brought Astacio up from AAA and basically hoped for the best. Astacio gave them six innings, giving up four earned runs on seven hits. The outing was good enough for Astacio to stick with the club and make two more starts, although things didn't go well for Astacio as he posted an 0-2, 7.31 mark after three starts. The Astros then sent Astacio into the bullpen, but the struggles continued and he wound up back at AAA. Astacio would return to the Astros to stay in early July and the results have been better, but not impressive. Overall, Astacio has gone 2-6, 5.76 in 21 games - 13 of them starts - for the Astros.

So, why is a struggling young pitcher starting for the Astros in the midst of a wild card race? Roger Clemens, who has been battling various nagging injuries through his last few starts will be taking the mound in place of the future Hall of Famer who hopes to miss just one start. Astacio will be pitching for a club holding a slim lead in the wild card race and will be the second rookie in a row to start for Houston. Astacio will also be charged with trying to help the Astros rebound from their 5-4 loss in Chicago on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the Phillies will be further south in Cincinnati. They'll be facing former Phillies' ace Eric Milton in the second of their three games against the Reds this weekend.

Milton took a lot of heat for giving up a high number of homeruns during his one season in Philadelphia. Milton gave up a career-high 43 homeruns last season and has been rather generous with the longball this season, giving up 40 in 32 starts with the Reds. After signing with the Reds as a free agent, Milton has been a disappointment in the Queen City. Milton (7-14, 6.84) was the target of a potential deal that would have brought him back to Philadelphia earlier this season, but a deal never materialized. Now, he'll be pitching in a hitter's park against a strong, homerun hitting lineup from Philly. Milton may yet pass his homerun mark of 43 and it's a definite that he won't pitch 200 innings, as he did for the Phillies last season.

The Phillies have already beaten Milton once this season, hitting him for eight earned runs in 4 1/3 innings at Citizens Bank Park on May 13th. Milton's real undoing in that game was a three-run homerun to Todd Pratt that came in the fourth inning and put the Phillies up 5-0 at the time in a game that they eventually won 12-2. Pratt was 2-for-2 in that game with a double and a homerun. Look for him to start in place of Mike Lieberthal. Look for David Bell to enjoy facing Milton, looking to build on his 8-for-16 career numbers against the left-hander.

Whether it's Ezequiel Astacio pitching for Houston and looking to keep his team on top in the wild card standings, or Eric Milton simply looking to salvage what he can from a bad season, there will be at least two former Phillies who will play significant roles in the story of the 2005 Phillies and their hunt for a playoff spot.

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