If the Houston Astros capture the wild card, they’ll do it largely on the strength of their dominant starting pitching. The Astros will again turn to one of those starters, Roy Oswalt, as they take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the opener of a two-game set.
Andy Pettitte has been the league’s top starter in the second half of the season, but Houston will be counting on Oswalt to get the club back on track Tuesday after Pettitte finally was unable to deliver a victory Sunday.
Pettitte came into the game against the Chicago Cubs riding a seven-start winning streak, but didn’t get a decision in the Astros’ 3-2 defeat. Houston has lost two of three after going 8-1 in its previous nine contests.
The Astros’ offense wasted several scoring opportunities and reliever Mike Gallo gave up a two-run homer to Jeromy Burnitz in the seventh inning, keeping the race between wild-card leading Houston and second-place Philadelphia tight.
The Phillies trail the Astros by 1 1/2 games after their 6-5 loss to the New York Mets on Monday night.
“I think we want to take it down to the wire,” Houston manager Phil Garner said. “That’s the way we’ve been playing it, so that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve just got to buckle down and play good ball now. We’re still in control of our destiny.”
The job of staying in control of that fate will fall largely to starting pitchers Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Brandon Backe and Oswalt, who may need to be at their best over the next week to give their low-scoring club a chance to make the postseason. After this two-game series with St. Louis, which boasts the major leagues’ best record, the Astros get a four-game rematch at home with the Cubs to close the season.
”(The Phillies) are feeling pretty good about themselves right now. But we still feel good about what we’re doing, too,” said Pettitte, who pitched six innings and allowed two hits and one run with no walks Sunday. “We feel like we’re strong, we feel like we’re going to be able to pull through this and get it done.”
The Cardinals have dominated the season series with the Astros, taking 11 of 14 meetings. Possibly to the Astros’ advantage, however, St. Louis has recently played like a team that can’t wait for the playoffs to start. The Cards ended a three-game losing streak Sunday, beating Milwaukee 2-0 behind the strong pitching of Jeff Suppan.
The right-hander allowed six hits in eight innings and Jim Edmonds homered for the Cardinals, who have already wrapped up homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs but had dropped five of six before Sunday. St. Louis finished its final road trip, a 10-game stretch, with a 4-6 mark. It was the Cards’ only losing trip of the year.
“My season is kind of a wash as far as some of the numbers,” Edmonds said. “I’m really just trying to go out there and get prepared for what’s to come. That’s really it right now.”
Matt Morris, Tuesday’s scheduled starter, is also trying to get prepared for October. He’s dropped four straight decisions and hasn’t won since Aug. 25, but pitched well in his last outing.