Roy Oswalt will try to give an overtaxed bullpen some needed relief Thursday afternoon, when the Astros make a quick turnaround and complete their series finale with the Pirates at PNC Park.
The Astros (80-78) used seven relievers in their 7-6 victory Wednesday, remaining 1 1/2 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals—who snapped a seven-game losing streak with a win over the San Diego Padres—in the NL Central division with four games remaining.
Houston used a four-run fourth inning to erase most of an early 6-1 deficit, forced extra innings on a ninth-inning RBI single by Luke Scott and finally plated the go-ahead run in the 15th on a sacrifice fly by Brad Ausmus that scored Craig Biggio.
“I’ve complained all year about not being able to get a run in from third, so I’m going to kiss his lunch for getting that one in,” manager Phil Garner said of Ausmus’ game-winner.
Ausmus said seeing the Cardinals win provided all the motivation the Astros needed.
“Seeing the Cardinals win makes it even more crucial for us going into extra innings, and understanding we move to 2 1/2 out with only four games left for us if we lose,” the catcher said. “Obviously it was a crucial win.”
The bullpen logged 12 innings, keeping the Pirates scoreless the final 7 1-3 innings by scattering three hits and four walks. Closer Brad Lidge pitched two innings, Dan Wheeler pitched three and winning pitcher Chris Sampson logged 2 2-3 innings.
Oswalt (14-8, 3.07 ERA) has been a key component of Houston’s late charge, putting forth another strong September in helping the reigning National League champions play meaningful baseball in the last week of the season.
The right-hander is 8-1 with a 2.84 ERA in his last 12 starts, with the Astros going 11-1 in those games. He is 16-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 21 September starts since 2003, and manager Phil Garner is leaving open the option of using Oswalt on short rest in Houston’s season-closing series against Atlanta if necessary.
“After each day, we’ll see where we are,” Garner said.
Oswalt, who shares the team lead in wins with Andy Pettitte, did not receive a decision in his last start Saturday, giving up three runs and nine hits in seven innings in a 7-4 win over the Cardinals.
“I didn’t have good stuff today,” Oswalt said. “I was able to battle and keep it close, (and) I had good enough stuff to get through it.”
Oswalt is trying to win 15 games for the third straight season and fourth time in his six-year career. He is 9-5 with a 2.92 ERA in 18 appearances—17 starts—against the Pirates (65-93), and has dominated them in two starts this season, allowing a combined two runs in 13 innings.
While Oswalt looks for his 10th win against the Pirates, Tom Gorzelanny (2-4, 3.79) is looking for his first against the Astros when he takes the mound.
The 24-year-old left-hander is 0-2 with a 6.10 ERA in two starts against them. He allowed two runs and five hits in a 5-2 loss on Aug. 10.
Gorzelanny allowed three runs and five hits in five innings Friday against the San Diego Padres in a 6-2 loss. The rookie is winless in his last four starts, which were interrupted by a month-long stint on the disabled list because of elbow tendinitis.
“The big thing is being back and being healthy,” Gorzelanny said. “But I want to be effective too.”
Pittsburgh closes its seasons with a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds starting Friday.