07/18/09 2:19 AM ET
Dominant Oswalt keeps Astros surging
Houston moves into three-way tie for second in Central
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
Oswalt threw his third complete game of the season and benefited from an avalanche of early run support to lead the Astros to their second consecutive win over the Dodgers, 8-1, and into a three-way tie for second place in the National League Central.
Oswalt (6-4) had a four-run lead before he even took the mound and allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter while throwing 105 pitches. He's 3-0 with a 1.66 ERA in his past five starts and improved to 6-0 against the NL West this year.
"It's probably the strongest performance I've seen in a while from Roy, and I thought his stuff was outstanding," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "He was in total command and had control of the game. He seemed to get stronger because in the ninth inning I thought I saw 95, 96 [mph]. He really was in no trouble at all."
Had it not been for a fly ball that right fielder Hunter Pence lost in the twilight sky in the third inning that resulted in an Orlando Hudson triple and run, the Astros might have posted their third consecutive shutout. Hudson was the only Dodgers runner to pass first base.
"We've had very few of these where a ballclub just manhandles us," Dodgers manager Joe Torre said.
Houston hitters feasted on Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley (9-5), who threw 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Astros on April 23 in Houston. Eight of the Astros' first 11 batters reached base via a hit, and every position starter had at least one hit before the first out was recorded in the second inning.
"He was throwing the ball pretty well at first and left a few balls up in the strike zone, and we were able to take advantage of it," Oswalt said. "I felt coming into the game if I could pitch deep into the game and maybe get a win and outpitch him as far as innings-wise, but we were able to get him out of there early."
The Astros scored four runs in the first inning on six consecutive hits after two outs, including a solo homer by Miguel Tejada and a two-run double by Pence. They sent nine batters to the plate and coerced the crowd of 51,209 into booing the home team on numerous occasions.
"Tejada got us kind of going there with the big swing to get us on the board, but I thought the big base hit was Hunter's to kind of give us a little more room, and we get the base hit from Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez] to drive in another one," Cooper said. "The big hit from [Geoff] Blum made it 6-0, but throughout the lineup, everybody contributed."
Blum chased Billingsley from the game with a two-run double in the second, and Rodriguez homered to lead off the third and give the Astros a 7-0 lead. Rodriguez (4-for-5) tied a season high with four hits, raising his average to .256.
"Starting 2-0 in the second half is always good," Rodriguez said. "Once again, Roy was unbelievable. All his pitches were unbelievable. His fastball was exploding big time. He was coming in fast in and out, and it was a great game. Everybody played good. We jumped them early, 4-0, and pretty much that was the difference."
Oswalt relied on his fastball and curveball primarily in the first four innings and later added a slider and changeup, keeping the Dodgers guessing.
"They've got a good lineup," Oswalt said. "Coming in here, we knew we were going to have to pitch well and they have good starters, too. Both guys we have faced [Billingsley and Randy Wolf] are great starters, but the biggest thing is to keep them off-balanced and try to get them to go four different ways - out front, a little bit behind, make them lean out and then get them off the plate. The biggest thing is don't walk guys because they have guys that can hit the ball out of the park."
Oswalt retired the Dodgers in order in the first, second, fourth, fifth and ninth innings. The only extra-base hit allowed was Hudson's triple that Pence lost in the sky. Hudson scored on Russell Martin's grounder, but it hardly mattered.
"The way Roy O. was pitching, he came out and just really set the stage for us all game," Pence said. "We shouldn't have given up any runs, but I lost a ball that should have been caught. Everybody chipped in today. It was a good team win."
Brian McTaggart is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.