Oswalt dominated for seven innings and the Astros got home runs from Jeff Bagwell and Richard Hidalgo, maintaining their division lead with an 8-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night.
“This is a huge win for us,” Bagwell said. “Right now all the games we win are huge.”
The second-place Cubs dropped 1 1/2 games back by splitting a doubleheader at Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are nearly out of the race, trailing by six games with seven to play.
Houston has won six of seven and is a season-best 15 games above .500.
“It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for them,” St. Louis’ Eduardo Perez said. “They’re in a pennant race and they did what they had to do to win.”
The Astros have beaten the Cardinals five straight times, including a sweep last weekend in Houston that knocked St. Louis back into the pack. The Astros are 11-5 overall against the defending NL Central champions.
In the last four games against the Cardinals, the Astros have won by a combined score of 28-7.
Oswalt (9-5) beat Matt Morris for the second straight time, baffling the Cardinals by changing speeds. He allowed a run on five hits with five strikeouts and two walks, quieting a nearly sold-out Busch Stadium.
“You’re here on their turf and anytime you take the crowd out of it, it helps the pitcher a lot,” Oswalt said. “I knew if I got some quick outs and maybe we scored a few more runs, then it would pretty much put the crowd out the whole night.”
Oswalt has won all three starts since coming off the 15-day disabled list from a strained right groin, allowing five runs in 19 innings for a 2.37 ERA. He’s won seven of his last eight decisions, including a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals on Sept. 13.
“In the sixth and seventh innings I didn’t quite have my velocity, but I had a good breaking pitch so I kind of stuck with it,” Oswalt said. “I feel good, I feel great.
“Hopefully, it stays with me the rest of the year and hopefully we get into the playoffs.”
Morris (10-8) had returned to form in recent outings, going 2-1 with a 1.29 ERA in his first five starts since returning from a sprained ankle and broken hand. The Cardinals saved him for this game, giving him an extra day of rest, but he gave up two runs in the first, second and fifth.
“It seems like they made good adjustments since last week when I faced them,” Morris said. “When you give up four runs early it’s tough to come back against Oswalt.”
Bagwell hit his 37th homer, and second in two nights, with one out in the first after Craig Biggio was hit by a pitch to open the game. Hidalgo hit his 28th leading off the second.
Hidalgo and Brad Ausmus added RBI singles in the ninth, making it 8-1.
The Astros are 13-4 in September. The Cardinals are 7-12.
The Cubs-Cardinals rivalry is as heated as ever. Cubs pitcher Mark Prior said on Sporting News Radio on Friday that he couldn’t root for the Cardinals this weekend, even though it would help the Astros. “I hope actually that Houston beats their brains in and just sends them all the way back to whoever is in fourth place now,” Prior said. Earlier this week, Morris said he wanted the Astros to win the Central if the Cardinals couldn’t do it. “When we compete against them the games are intense but they don’t have that ‘I want to kill you, I hate you’ attitude,” Morris said. … The Astros have won 11 games in a season against St. Louis for the first time in franchise history, topping a 10-8 record in 1966. … Bagwell has 20 homers since the All-Star break, tied for the most in the majors with Philadelphia’s Jim Thome. Bagwell has 418 homers, moving ahead of Frank Thomas for 32nd on the career list, after connecting in consecutive games for the ninth time this season. … Morris is 0-3 against the Astros this season with a 3.50 ERA. … RF Hidalgo saved a run in the second when he threw out Perez trying to score from second on Mike Matheny’s two-out single. Hidalgo leads the major league outfielders with aclub-record 22 assists.