Oswalt wins again, leads Astros to 6-0 win
Oswalt threw his second straight complete-game shutout and set a Houston record for consecutive scoreless innings, helping the streaking Astros beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-0 Thursday night for their 14th win in 15 games.
Houston was 66-66 and 11 games back of Milwaukee, the NL wild-card leader, before the run began Aug. 27. The latest win closed the Astros within three games of the Brewers, who lost 6-3 at Philadelphia.
It’s uncertain when the Astros will play again. The first two games of their weekend series against the Chicago Cubs were postponed and Sunday’s matchup could be next with Hurricane Ike closing in on Texas.
“It might be good for the guys,” Oswalt said. “We’ve been sort of playing all the way out every game.”
The Astros have won six straight and their 36-16 record since the All-Star break is the best mark in the majors.
Oswalt (15-9) hasn’t allowed a run in 32 1-3 innings, passing the previous record of 31 set by J.R. Richard in 1980. He needed only 90 pitches to finish his sixth career shutout and 15th complete game.
The ace has come all the way back from a sluggish start and a strained hip that forced him to miss two weeks in July. He’s gone at least eight innings in five of his last six outings.
“I’m feeling better than I did at the beginning of the year,” Oswalt said. “Seems like the fastball is running a little more, with late life. I’m kind of feeding off it.”
Oswalt retired 20 in a row after Luis Rivas’ one-out single in the first inning on his way to winning for the ninth time in 10 decisions. He finished with a three-hitter.
“He was magnificent, I mean, just awesome,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. “He just put it on cruise control. His fastball command was terrific.”
Oswalt also drove in two runs for the Astros, who’ve won nine straight at Minute Maid Park, matching their longest home win streak since July 2005.
The Pirates have lost six in a row and 17 of 20.
Houston went in front in the third and added five more runs in the fifth to take a 6-0 lead, chasing Pirates starter Zach Duke (5-14).
Reggie Abercrombie led off the third with a bunt single and advanced to third on Duke’s wild throw past first baseman Adam LaRoche. One out later, Oswalt dropped a sacrifice bunt and Abercrombie sprinted home to make it 1-0.
Hunter Pence singled in the Houston fifth to extend his hitting streak to 13 games. He went to third when Doug Mientkiewicz made an errant throw into the outfield trying to start a double play. Abercrombie drove in Pence with a bloop single to center and Brad Ausmus singled to load the bases.
Oswalt, Darin Erstad, Mark Loretta and Miguel Tejada each drove in a run, and Pittsburgh manager John Russell replaced Duke with Marino Salas. Oswalt singled in Jose Castillo and scored when Miguel Tejada extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a double.
“He just really couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Russell said of Duke. “He had decent command. The one inning just really got him.”
Duke allowed two earned runs and six hits in 4 2-3 innings.
Oswalt was coming off a one-hitter in Colorado on Saturday, and was just as dominant in this one.
The only moment he seemed uncomfortable came in the fourth, when he ducked to avoid shards of Ryan Doumit’s shattered bat on a groundout.
“It looked like it was coming right at me, kind of a changeup,” Oswalt said. “The biggest thing is you’re trying to measure the ball and the bat at the same time and see if you can make a play on the ball. At that time, I lost the ball and I didn’t know where either one of them was.”
Oswalt retired eight straight Pirates on groundouts between the fourth and sixth.
Mientkiewicz singled with one out in the eighth to end Oswalt’s run of consecutive outs. Steve Pearce promptly grounded into a double play. Luis Cruz singled with one out in the ninth, but Oswalt got pinch-hitter Jason Michaels to roll into a game-ending double play.
The Astros were in a hurry to leave the ballpark and get a head start on storm preparations after the win.
“You can’t control the weather,” Abercrombie said. “You take these days off, let our bodies rest and come back strong.”
Houston starters have won 12 of their last 14 decisions. … Duke has lost 10 of his last 11 decisions. … The Astros completed their first four-game home sweep of the Pirates since May 2003.