Oswalt overpowers Mets for 12th win of year

NEW YORK (AP) -- Pitching at Shea Stadium for the first time in
his young career, Roy Oswalt looked like the most relaxed man in
the park.

Oswalt kept his cool on a steamy evening, and the Houston Astros
beat the New York Mets 3-1 Thursday night for their sixth victory
in seven games.

"I felt real comfortable on this mound,'' Oswalt said.
"Everything was clicking.''

After the Astros won the series opener 16-3 and then the Mets
bounced back to romp 10-0, Oswalt (12-6) and Pedro Astacio (10-4)
put the emphasis back on pitching.

Brad Ausmus drove in two runs and Craig Biggio homered as the
Astros won a matchup of wild card contenders and improved to 55-52,
the same record as New York. The Mets lost a series for the first
time the All-Star break, having won four and split two.

"It was a big game, especially after the Mets scored like they
did last night,'' Oswalt said. "The first night, we came out
swinging the bats. Last night, it's like we took the night off.''

Oswalt had no trouble with the humid, 89-degree conditions or
the Mets hitters. Featuring a 96 mph fastball, he took a three-hit
shutout into the seventh inning, and left with two outs after
pinch-hitter Tony Tarasco's RBI grounder.

"He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he rushes it up
there pretty good,'' praised Mets slugger Mike Piazza. "He's got
good stuff and a lot of poise on the mound.''

Octavio Dotel struck out pinch-hitter John Valentin with runners
on second and third to end the seventh and breezed through the
eighth. Billy Wagner pitched the ninth for his 21st save in 26

Aside from a pair of sliced doubles by Timo Perez, Oswalt ran
into few problems in beating the Mets for the second time this
season. He gave up six hits, walked one and struck out three in 6
2/3 innings.

Oswalt is 5-1 in his last nine starts. He's an impressive 26-9
in his career.

Ausmus backed Oswalt with his bat and some encouragement. With
the Astros ahead 1-0, Oswalt opened the fourth by issuing his only
walk, to Perez.

When Piazza took a healthy cut at the next pitch and fouled it
off, Ausmus got out of his catcher's crouch and trotted to the
mound. On the next pitch, Oswalt got Piazza to ground into an easy
double play.

"We had a game plan to either go inside or up in the zone. That
first pitch, I left it outside and down, and he just missed it,''
Oswalt said. "Brad just came out to remind me of what we were
trying to do.''

In the sixth, with Houston leading 2-0, Piazza's bid for a
tying, two-run homer hung up in the heavy air and was caught on the
edge of the warning track in center field to end the inning.

"A lot of people pitch around him,'' Oswalt said. "I was going
to challenge him.''

The Astros loaded the bases on three straight singles to start
the second and Ausmus hit a sacrifice fly. Perez, taking over
full-time in center field after Jay Payton was traded to Colorado
on Wednesday, prevented further damage with a perfect, on-the-fly
throw home to nail Richard Hidalgo to end the inning.

Ausmus added an RBI single in the sixth, Astacio's last inning.
Daryle Ward tied a career high with three hits, and scored
Houston's first two runs.

Biggio made it 3-0 with his first home run since July 3, a solo
shot in the seventh off David Weathers. His line drive bounced off
a wall beyond the left-field wall and caromed back onto the field,
and Biggio was running hard toward second base before he saw the
umpires signal a home run.

Game notes
RHPs John Thomson and Steve Reed and OF Mark Little, all
acquired in trades a day earlier, joined the Mets. Little grounded
out as a pinch-hitter and Reed pitched a scoreless ninth. ...
Hidalgo hit a foul pop that damaged a TV camera next to the
third-base dugout. ... Bagwell had homered seven times in 50 career
at-bats against Astacio before going 0-for-3 vs. the righty. ...
LHP Mark Guthrie pitched a scoreless eighth, extending his shutout
streak to 26 2/3 innings over 32 appearances. It is the longest
scoreless streak by a Mets pitcher since Jesse Orosco went 27 2/3
innings without allowing a run in 1983.