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05/23/07 2:06 AM ET

Oswalt burned by free passes to Bonds

Astros strike first, but three-run sixth downs Houston ace

SAN FRANCISCO -- With uncertainty surrounding so many areas of this Astros team, it's probably in the club's best interest if it wins every time Roy Oswalt pitches, at least until the offense comes around.

The Astros had no such luck Tuesday in San Francisco. They struck first against phenom right-hander Tim Lincecum, but the Giants roared back to top Houston, 4-2, before a paid crowd of 35,134 at AT&T Park.

"You certainly want to win when Roy pitches, because he's one of the top three or four pitchers in the league," manager Phil Garner said. "So when he pitches, you certainly want to win. You feel like it's a wasted opportunity when you're running the best pitcher in the league out there -- you should win a ballgame."

Not this time. On a night when Oswalt intentionally walked Barry Bonds twice while also recording two outs on the Giants' slugger, the man hitting behind Bonds, Ray Durham, continued two crucial innings that ultimately made the difference in a tight ballgame.

Garner consulted with Oswalt prior to ordering both intentional passes. The Giants had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth, and Oswalt agreed with Garner's choice to walk Bonds. Durham followed with a sacrifice fly, narrowing the Astros' lead to 2-1.

But Oswalt didn't want to walk Bonds in the sixth, when the Giants had a runner on second and one out.

"We've got a man on second and one out, you've got to go at him," Oswalt said. "You can't put guys on, especially with a 2-1 score. The more you put guys on, the more they can score. I'd rather go right at him and if he hits a bomb, it's 3-2 and I've got bases empty and I'm going back to the windup. Whereas [with] two guys on and one out, he hits a bomb, you're down 4-2."

Bonds didn't hit a bomb, but the Astros wound up down two runs anyway. Durham knocked a base hit to right, scoring Klesko, and Bengie Molina knocked a single through the hole at first, loading the bases for Pedro Feliz, who doubled down the left-field line to give the Giants the 4-2 lead.

"If you want a pitcher to do something, you want him to get grounds balls," Garner said. "Make hitters hit ground balls and you have a chance to catch them. The ground balls found holes, until Feliz got up there and hit one."

Early in the game, this looked to be a classic pitchers' duel. Lincecum and Oswalt matched each other practically pitch for pitch through three innings, each having thrown 30 pitches while not allowing a hit.

But both pitchers showed their mortality in the middle innings, even though the two runs the Astros scored off Lincecum were aided by a bit of luck and some questionable defense on the Giants' behalf.

Mike Lamb led off the third with a double down the left-field line and scored easily when Mark Loretta cracked a hit just inside the line in right. Fred Lewis thought the ball bounced into the stands, and his delayed reaction upon discovering it bouncing around right field gave Lamb plenty of time to score. Loretta, in the meantime, made it to third for a triple.

Carlos Lee fell behind in the count, 1-2, before reaching out to make contact with a Lincecum outside fastball. It shot to right field for a base hit, scoring Loretta.

That was the end of the Astros' threat against Lincecum, who five days earlier thwarted Houston's offense over seven innings, allowing one unearned run.

"The second time around seeing him was a little bit better," said Lamb, who was 0-for-5 with two strikeouts last week against Lincecum. "It didn't matter a whole lot, but I felt like I had a better chance today than I did in Houston. Any edge you can get mentally helps out a lot, but he's still a pretty good pitcher. It's not rocket science. I'm a college dropout and I can figure that out."

The loss was Oswalt's first since April 27, ending a four-game non-losing streak. It also marked the first time since April 22 that he allowed more than three runs in a single start.

Just as was the case the first time Lincecum and Oswalt faced each other, neither side had much of a margin for error. For Oswalt, who is in his third year of watching the Astros' offense struggle, the feeling is all too familiar.

"You can't worry about what the offense does," he said. "You've got to pitch. You only get two [runs], win with two. You only get one, win with one. That's what starting pitcher does, keeps you in the game."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.