ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) -- Roy Oswalt had just given up a triple in
the seventh inning of a close game. But the Houston starter didn't
given in, he struck out the next three Texas batters he faced.
Oswalt didn't throw another pitch after that, and the Astros
went on to the beat the Texas Rangers 6-5 Friday night in the
resumption of the Lone Star Series. "That's the best single inning I've seen him pitch,'' Astros
catcher Brad Ausmus said. "He certainly picked up his focus.'' After Kevin Mench tripled to start the seventh, Oswalt (8-5)
left him there with three straight strikeouts. Frank Catalanotto
struck out on a nasty sinker -- the 111th and final pitch thrown by
Oswalt, who left wiht a 5-3 lead. "He never ceases to amaze me with his intestinal fortitude.
He's just got guts,'' center fielder Lance Berkman said. "A lot of
time in adverse situations, he makes his best pitches. I had a
great view, and you could see he turned it up a notch and got the
job done.'' Berkman added his 24th homer in the ninth, a 424-foot shot to
center. That proved big since Mench homered in the ninth off Billy
Wagner. Oswalt struck out nine while allowing three runs on seven hits.
The right-hander, one of the NL's top rookies a year ago, is 20-7
with a 3.02 ERA in 37 career starts. Astros manager Jimy Williams didn't even considered sending
Oswalt back out after his impressive seventh. "We thought he had done his job, pitching through seven
innings. It was time for a change,'' Williams said. "I was running out of gas a little bit,'' Oswalt admitted.
"You have to make pitches. With a runner on third, you have to
focus on every pitch, and the biggest thing you have to do is make
better pitches.'' Ricky Stone took over to start the eighth, and gave up a run
before Wagner got an inning-ending double play on his first pitch.
Wagner got the last five outs for his 12th save. Orlando Merced hit a two-run homer off Chan Ho Park (3-4) and
later scored on Brad Ausmus' go-ahead double for the Astros. Merced's homer, his fourth of the year, gave Houston a 2-0 lead
in the second. Richard Hildago had reached on a double that hit off
Juan Gonzalez's glove when the right fielder slipped on the warning
track that had been soaked by a pregame thunderstorm. The Rangers went ahead 3-2 before the Astros scored three in the
sixth. Hildago drew a one-out walk before Merced singled and
Ausmus, the No. 9 hitter, doubled. Jose Vizcaino added a
run-scoring single. Houston, which took 2-of-3 from the Rangers two weekends ago,
has a 3-1 lead for this year's Silver Boot trophy. The two teams
split their six games last year, the first they ever played in the
regular season, but Texas was given the trophy for outscoring the
Astros 44-28. Alex Rodriguez tied the game with a two-run homer in the third,
a 435-foot shot to left-center after Ivan Rodriguez reached on a
ground-rule double in the right-field corner. It was A-Rod's
AL-leading 24th homer. After Rodriguez's homer, Oswalt struck out three of the next
four hitters, including Gonzalez to end the third. Texas went ahead 3-2 in the fifth when Michael Young doubled and
scored on a single by Frank Catalanotto, who was activated earlier
in the day after seven weeks on the disabled list because of lower
back problems. Park was pulled after giving up a two-out walk to Ausmus in the
eighth. After he got to the dugout, Park took his frustration out
by beating on a water cooler. "I didn't get tired. I just feel bad giving up a hit and a walk
to the ninth-place batter,'' Park said. "Except for once pitch
(Merced's homer), it was an OK outing.'' Park allowed five runs on seven hits. He struck out five and
walked five. He threw 122 pitches, just 69 of them strikes. Ivan Rodriguez greeted Stone in the eighth with a single, then
stole second before scoring on Gonzalez's single. Wagner got Rafael
Palmeiro to ground into a double play on the first pitch he threw.
Alex Rodriguez's homer was the longest hit at The Ballpark
in Arlington this season. ... Rodriguez, the likely AL starter at
shortstop in the All-Star game, had assists on five of the six outs
in the fourth and fifth innings. ... Astros 2B Craig Biggio snapped
an 0-for-12 slump with a third-inning single. ... Despite the
thunderstorm that kept the Astros from taking batting practice on
the field, the game started just two minutes late. ... Gonzalez
drew a walk in the sixth, his first in nine games.