Astros extend division lead with victory

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Roy Oswalt stayed on top of his game, keeping
the Houston Astros on top of the NL Central.

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

"This is a huge win for us," Bagwell said. "Right now all the
games we win are huge."

The second-place Cubs dropped 1 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

"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.

Adam Everett added an RBI triple in the second. Bagwell had a
run-scoring double, and Jeff Kent added an RBI single in the fifth
for a 6-1 lead.

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.

Game notes
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 a
club-record 22 assists.