Three-peat! Phils clinch NL East title

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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 NL East crown.

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

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

"We've done it again, back-to-back-to-back," center fielder Shane Victorino said. "We've shown what it's about."

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 (3-1) 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 wanted him to pitch in front of the crowd and they responded," manager Charlie Manuel said. "It was good for him."

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.

"I'll celebrate when we get to the big one," said Manuel, who stayed in his office while players doused each other with champagne and beer.

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 3½ 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, manager Charlie 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 1½ games behind Los Angeles.

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 Chase 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.

NOTES: The Phillies are 31-11 at home since July 1. They were 13-22 the first two months. ... Houston's Miguel Tejada extended his hitting streak to 17 games. ... Ibanez hit 33 homers for Seattle in 2006.

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