<
>

Oswalt allows three hits over seven innings

HOUSTON (AP) -- Roy Oswalt pumped his fist and nodded knowingly
toward the Astros' dugout as he walked off the mound to a standing
ovation.

It had been a long time since Oswalt and the Astros felt this
good.

Oswalt pitched seven sharp innings for his first win in more
than a month, and Houston stopped a five-game losing streak Tuesday
night with a 5-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

"You have to take some of the weight off your shoulders,"
Oswalt said. "I think I pitch better under pressure. My last two
outings were mediocre so I wanted to change that"

Oswalt (3-3) allowed only three hits and struck out eight,
dominating a lineup missing Sammy Sosa in the first showdown of the
season between the NL Central's favorites.

Lance Berkman and Orlando Palmeiro homered for Houston, which
moved within a half-game of the second-place Cubs, behind
surprising Cincinnati.

Dan Miceli pitched a perfect eighth and Octavio Dotel finished
the three-hitter, Houston's third shutout this season.

The win couldn't have come at a better time for the slumping
Astros, particularly since it came against Carlos Zambrano, who
hadn't lost to Houston since Aug. 14, 2002.

"This is a big win, especially with who we were going
against," Astros manager Jimy Williams said. "(Zambrano) has
always been really tough on not only us, but the entire league."

The NL's top offense bounced back from a 7-0 loss to the Reds on
Sunday that punctuated the season-high skid.

Jeff Kent singled in Craig Biggio, and Berkman followed with a
two-run homer, his 11th of the year, for a 4-0 lead in the fifth.

Kent's sacrifice fly in the seventh drove in Adam Everett, who
narrowly beat Paul Bako's tag at the plate on a tremendous throw
from Todd Hollandsworth.

Houston even got some offense from an unexpected source.
Palmeiro, filling in for slumping Richard Hidalgo, homered in the
second inning to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

The Cubs, who have struggled a bit offensively without Sosa and
leadoff hitter Mark Grudzielanek, were shut out for the third time
in two weeks.

"It was all them tonight and just a little us," Cubs manager
Dusty Baker said. "We had no kind of offense."

Oswalt earned his first win since a 2-0 victory over Milwaukee
on April 16, breaking a career-long six-start winless streak. The
right-hander has now won his last five decisions against the Cubs.

He really got it going in the third, retiring 13 batters in a
row before Moises Alou singled in the seventh. After Derrek Lee
grounded out to end the inning, the crowd of 40,154 rose to its
feet as Oswalt walked briskly to the dugout.

Oswalt even forced a bit of a smile as catcher Raul Chavez ran
over to greet him -- proof that this was more than the average May
victory.

"I was under .500 and I didn't want to get any worse," Oswalt
said. "I was throwing mediocre."

Zambrano (4-2), who won all three of his starts against Houston
last season with a 0.85 ERA, took the loss against the Astros.

He went just five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and
striking out five. It was the first time all season the
right-hander didn't last six innings.

"(Zambrano) battled and kept us in the game for awhile and
that's all you can ask," Cubs catcher Paul Bako said. "We didn't
hit anything hard all night. Just a few flyballs and groundballs.
Oswalt was very tough."

Game notes
Kent extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... 1B Jeff
Bagwell's attempt to snag a pop fly in the second was thwarted by a
fan who caught the ball -- a la Cubs fan Steve Bartman. The man
broke into a sheepish grin as the crowd booed and Bagwell angrily
stared at him. ... Everett had his league-leading 11th sacrifice
hit. Houston also leads the league with 33 sacrifice bunts this
season.