Astros 2, Cardinals 0

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HOUSTON (AP)—The Houston Astros have waited all season for Roy Oswalt to get healthy.

Now, he’s pitching like an ace again.

On the disabled list three times this year because of groin injuries, Oswalt has won two straight starts since he was last activated. He allowed just four hits in seven innings Saturday night, outpitching Matt Morris in Houston’s 2-0 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

“This was the first time I’ve felt comfortable all year,” Oswalt said. “I was working the corners better and changing speeds any way I wanted.”

That was good news to manager Jimy Williams as the Astros try to maintain their NL Central lead.

The victory preserved their one-game advantage over the Chicago Cubs, 9-6 winners over Cincinnati. St. Louis lost for the fourth time in five games and dropped 4 1/2 off the pace.

“He was very sharp and he had to be the way Morris was pitching on the other side,” Williams said. “He was out five, six weeks and he didn’t pitch and we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Oswalt (8-5) came off the disabled list and won his first game Sept. 8 against Milwaukee. He was even sharper against the Cardinals.

“I told myself just to not walk anyone or put anyone on and go right after them and work both sides of the plate,” Oswalt said. “I felt the same strength-wise.”

Octavio Dotel pitched a perfect eighth in his first appearance since straining his left gluteus Sept. 6.

Billy Wagner finished the five-hitter for his 42nd save in 45 chances and 20th in a row. He got Albert Pujols to ground into a double play and struck out Scott Rolen on three pitches to end it.

“We’re in first place and we weren’t even expecting to be here,” Wagner said. “There’s no pressure on us. We’re playing the best baseball we’ve played and we’re probably more relaxed than we’ve been all year.

“But as far as using the pressure word, that’s not something we’re thinking about.”

Oswalt didn’t allow a hit until Rolen’s ground-rule double down the third-base line with two outs in the fourth inning. Edgar Renteria then smashed a grounder to shortstop Adam Everett, who made a diving catch and threw out Renteria for the third out.

Singles by J.D. Drew in the third, Chris Widger in the fifth and Fernando Vina in the sixth were the only other hits off Oswalt. He threw 94 pitches, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.

Morris (10-7) entered with a career-high 20-inning scoreless streak and extended it to 23 before Bagwell homered in the fourth for his second in two games.

“I came in on an 0-2 pitch to Bagwell and I outthought myself and he took it the other way for a home run—that was the game,” Morris said.

The homer gave Houston a 1-0 lead and moved Bagwell into a tie with Chicago White Sox slugger Frank Thomas for 33rd on the career list with 415. Craig Biggio added an RBI double in the fifth.

Morris pitched seven innings, allowing four hits and two runs. He struck out five and walked one.

“The starting pitching was really good, we have no excuses,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. “The starting pitcher for the Astros made a lot of good pitches, that was quality pitching. I think Oswalt was very tough, but somewhere, some way, we should have gotten some runs.”

Cardinals catcher Mike Matheny was ejected by plate umpire Jerry Crawford as St. Louis took the field for the third inning. Moments later, Crawford pointed to the Cardinals dugout and tossed pitching coach Dave Duncan.

“(Morris) pitched a (great) game, it was pitched a lot better than it was umpired,” La Russa said. “That should not be tolerated. When they want to getyou, they will get you.”

Notes

St. Louis 1B Tino Martinez needs two home runs to reach 300 for his career. … Pujols went 0-for-4, ending his 10-game hitting streak. He has ninestreaks of 10 or more games in his career.

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