08/22/08 11:21 PM ET
Oswalt outdueled by Mets' Santana
Righty retires final 20 batters, but Astros stifled in shutout
By Jon Blau / MLB.com
Twenty straight batters stood up and sat down before Oswalt's exit after the eighth inning, but at the end of a 3-0 loss to the Mets at Shea Stadium, the Astros' ace could do little more than regret David Wright's first-inning RBI single. As for Brian Schneider's two-run home run in the second inning, it was just cushioning on Santana's seven innings of shutout ball, really.
The Astros' eight hits -- twice as many as the four Oswalt surrendered to the Mets -- were ineffective in changing the outcome.
Simply put, Friday was Santana's prize, not Oswalt's. The Astros' ace was busted before his run at the end of the game, receiving his first loss in more than two months after winning six straight decisions.
"I knew Johan from a long time ago, he's a competitor," said Oswalt, who was Santana's teammate in Houston's Minor League system. "And when you give up one run, you can only try to hold yourself as close as you can."
Astros manager Cecil Cooper, a lifetime .298 hitter in 17 Major League seasons, explained before the game that if he was in the box, he wouldn't even swing at Santana's slider or his changeup.
"You can't hit it, so why even try to hit it?" Cooper asked.
Instead, Cooper would attack the fastballs -- and only in a zone that was comfortable.
"Unless it is floating right here in front of your face," Cooper said, holding his hands right by his eyes to simulate a hovering changeup, "you aren't going to hit it."
It seemed as if Schneider used Cooper's philosophy against Oswalt. He sat on a first-pitch fastball instead of waiting on anything off-speed, and the Astros could only give credit to the Mets' catcher for that mammoth swing rather than demerit their starter for trying to throw strike one.
"He only threw one bad pitch. I think it kind of shocked us all when Schneider comes over the plate and goes long," Geoff Blum said. "Even that wasn't a bad pitch. It just so happens he reached out and got it. Roy's a dominant pitcher. He proved it again tonight, but we didn't back him up."
Blum was one of seven Astros to collect a hit Friday. Most of Cooper's players made contact, except for Oswalt and catcher Brad Ausmus. But there isn't much you can exploit against "this one," Cooper reiterated about Santana pregame.
Little did he know, the Astros would hit, just not at the right times, leaving nine runners on base. Oswalt, who had more than his share of regrets for such a dominating performance in an eight-inning complete game, thought back to his strikeout in the top of the second inning with runners on second and third.
"I had a chance, too, with two on," Oswalt said, "and I feel I should have hit the ball a little bit better."
"It's called getting hits in key situations. That's the name of the game -- clutch hits," Cooper said. "If you get runners in position to score, you have to get base hits. We have been kind of scratching these last few days to get some base hits in key situations and haven't been able to do it."
Everything almost lined up right for the Astros. Their plan was to push up Santana's pitch count, which they did, up to 121 pitches. Even so, the lefty escaped every jam, and Wright's RBI single with a runner on third started the Astros on a path to their fifth loss in their past seven games.
They are still 20-13 since the All-Star break, and this was the Astros' first loss to the Mets this season after taking three straight at home at the beginning of August. But there was one factor that couldn't be overcome, a single player that robbed Oswalt and his 20 straight retirees of glory, a solitary factor that made this game extraordinary.
"In a normal situation, you are going to end up with some runs," Cooper said. "But when you are facing Santana, it's a little tough to scratch any off of him."
Jon Blau is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.