The pitch, thrown seconds after Wilton Lopez was lectured on the mound by his pitching coach, was an 84-m.p.h. slider through the heart of the plate. Pedro Feliz hit it so hard that Houston leftfielder Carlos Lee took only a few steps back before realizing the ball's fate.

With that grand slam in the fourth inning, an entire stadium exhaled last night.

All of a sudden, the scoreboard watching didn't feel as important anymore. All of a sudden, the Phillies had life. All of a sudden, the 45,082 fans at Citizens Bank Park erupted, waving white towels.

And tonight, after a 7-4 victory over the Astros, the Phillies can clinch their third consecutive National League East title.

After Atlanta's 5-4 loss to Florida last night, the Phillies' magic number is down to one. They can win the division tonight with a victory against the Astros or another Braves loss.

The Phillies may have also solved their closer dilemma. Ryan Madson earned a six-out save to preserve Feliz's big hit and the Phils' victory. Madson struck out Hunter Pence looking with two on in the ninth to end the game.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he decided to send Madson out for the ninth after he threw just nine pitches in the eighth. And if Madson couldn't get the job done, the manager was set to go to Brad Lidge.

"The crowd definitely helped," Madson said. "When I went out there for the ninth, they made some noise."

Before the game, Manuel called a meeting, feeling the timing was right for some positive encouragement.

Last night's timely hitting and quality relief work offered a reprieve.

"I liked some things I saw," Manuel said.

The Phillies made quick work of another relative unknown for Houston, rookie starter Lopez, unlike Monday when Yorman Bazardo stymied their offense.

Lopez breezed through the Phillies' lineup the first time through the order, but the first batter to see him twice, Jimmy Rollins, stroked an RBI double to left-center in the third. Lopez left the game three batters after Feliz's grand slam in the fourth.

"Oh, it was huge," Ryan Howard said of Feliz's slam, "especially because we've been scuffling with the bats, getting runs. Any time you can hit a grand slam, that's pretty big. That definitely catapulted us."

Jayson Werth followed with a two-out, two-run homer in the fifth, but starter J.A. Happ gave those runs back on his 119th and final pitch, a two-run bomb by Kaz Matsui in the sixth.

But Happ, who gutted through a shaky 52/3 innings for the win, became the first Phillies rookie to win 12 games in a season since Jim Owens did it in 1959.

To load the bases in the fourth, Howard led off with an infield single toward the left side, where the third baseman would normally be playing if the shift had not been on. Raul Ibanez singled to center and Werth walked on five pitches.

That's when pitching coach Dewey Robinson made a trip to the mound to calm down his young starter Lopez. It didn't work.

Seconds after returning to the dugout from his home-run trot, Feliz took a curtain call and the fans just waved their towels harder.

"It was a big swing," Feliz said. "Four runs on one swing."

Read Andy Martino's Phillies blog, The Phillies Zone, at http://go.philly.com/sports.

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