Oswalt, Berkman help Astros avoid sweep by Cardinals

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The Houston Astros know they are a long shot to
make the playoffs. At least, the defending NL champions enjoyed the
end of their road trip.

Roy Oswalt pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning and Lance Berkman hit his 40th home run, helping the Astros bounce back from
a dispiriting loss to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 5-1 Wednesday in
the finale of a nine-game swing.

"I hope it carries over and gives us a little momentum going
back home," manager Phil Garner said after the Astros concluded
the trip 4-5. "We need to re-establish ourselves."

The Astros ended a three-game losing streak and averted a
three-game sweep against a team they're chasing in the NL Central.
On Tuesday, Albert Pujols hit a two-run double with two outs in the
ninth off Brad Lidge for a 6-5 victory.

Chris Burke, starting at second base for the second straight
game in place of slumping Craig Biggio, had two hits and two RBI.
Still, Houston was six games behind the Cardinals in the Central
and 4½ games back in the wild card standings with only 17 games

"We're so far behind that we have to win every series for
sure," Oswalt said. "Then we'll just see what it ends up."

Garner said he hasn't attempted to calculate what it would take
to extend what has been a frustrating season for the Astros

"We're not even at .500," he said. "We can't even start to
play those kind of games yet."

The Cardinals got only two runners into scoring position before
the ninth against Oswalt (13-8), who gave up one run and seven hits
in 8 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.

With one out in the ninth, the Cardinals hit three consecutive
singles off Oswalt for their lone run. Trever Miller relieved and
got one out. Dan Wheeler earned his fifth save in seven chances by
striking out pinch-hitter Preston Wilson.

Oswalt is 4-0 in his last five starts, matching his season-best,
four-game winning streak, and has won five straight September
decisions dating to last season. Working with a big lead, he was
able to challenge the hitters.

"I didn't have my best fastball, but I was able to spot it,"
Oswalt said. "You get to go after guys. They were swinging at some
early pitches, so I was able to get deep into the ballgame."

Jason Marquis (14-15) pitched on three days' rest for the eighth
time in his career and lasted only 10 batters. The Astros batted
around in a four-run first, including a bases-loaded walk to Luke
Scott, a two-run single by Burke and an RBI single by Eric

"I felt fine, I warmed up fine," Marquis said. "It just
didn't translate and carry over to the game."

Berkman was 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series with
five strikeouts before going 3-for-4 with a walk in the finale. He
was a triple shy of the cycle, and his homer off Josh Hancock in
the sixth gave the Astros a 5-0 lead.

Marquis was pulled after yielding a leadoff hit to Willy Taveras
in the second after laboring for 52 pitches. The Cardinals have
totaled one run in his last three starts, although Marquis was much
better in the previous two outings.

Marquis exited with a 5.82 ERA. Only two pitchers since 1900
have finished with higher ERAs and won 14 or more games -- Wes
Ferrell (15-10, 6.28) in 1938 for the Senators and Yankees, and Guy
Bush (15-10, 6.20) in 1930 for the Cubs.

"Physically, obviously, I feel fine," Marquis said.
"Mechanically, I've got some problems. I've been battling
mechanical problems all year."

By the time Marquis had thrown 13 pitches, the Astros had the
bases loaded with none out in the first on singles by Taveras and
Morgan Ensberg and a walk to Berkman. Scott walked on five pitches
to force in a run, Burke followed with a two-run single, and
Bruntlett hit an RBI single.

Game notes
The Cardinals fell to a major league best 35-18 in day
games. ... Marquis is 7-4 against Houston. He's beaten the Astros
more than any other team. ... Oswalt's 49-16 career record after
the All-Star break leads active pitchers. ... Berkman is two homers
shy of his career best of 42 in 2002. ... The Astros left 14
runners on base. ... A sellout crowd of 40,359 pushed the Cardinals
above 3 million for the 10th in franchise history and eighth time
in nine years. This is their first year at the new Busch Stadium.