Reds chip away at Oswalt's dominance
Unbeaten streak ends as Astros fall run short in ninth
By BRIAN MCTAGGART
Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle
CINCINNATI - If there was a silver lining in the first loss of the season for Astros righthander Roy Oswalt, it's that he no longer will have to answer questions about his perfect record against the Cincinnati Reds.
That's because the Reds — one of baseball's biggest surprises this season — finally figured out how to beat the Astros righthander on Friday night at Great American Ball Park. Oswalt (4-1) allowed eight hits and three runs in six innings and suffered his first loss in 16 career decisions against the Reds (16-7), who held on to beat the Astros 5-4 in front of 32,089 fans.
"Eventually it was going to come to an end if you play long enough," said Oswalt, who lost for the first time since Sept. 11, 2005.
Oswalt came into the game 15-0 against the Reds since 2001 and with the major-league record for most wins against a team without a loss.
"He could start another five-year run if he wants to," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "That's a nice streak. I don't know how to explain those things. It's an unusual record."
Cincinnati won for the fifth game in a row and knocked the Astros (15-7) from first place in the National League Central with their club record-tying 16th win in April. It was the Astros' first loss in eight one-run games this year.
Reds lefthander Brandon Claussen (2-2) collected the win after holding the Astros to six hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Todd Coffey threw two scoreless innings in relief, and David Weathers held on in the ninth for his seventh save.
Called on to protect a 5-2 lead, Weathers gave up a two-run homer down the left-field line to Lance Berkman with one out. The ball was caught by a fan in front of the foul pole and quickly ruled a homer by third-base umpire Gerry Davis.
"I knew I hit it good, but I wasn't thinking home run," Berkman said. "The whole time I was wondering if it was going to be fair or foul. I kind of watched and at the last minute it straightened out and died in the corner. The guy reached his glove out and caught it, and I knew they were going to call it at least a double."
With a chance to tie the game, Morgan Ensberg flied out to center field and Preston Wilson flied out to right to end the game.
"It's was their night," Berkman said. "They kept giving themselves chances to score, but a lot of hits were not exactly tattooed. There were seeing-eye grounders and a jam shot and that sort of thing, but give those guys a lot of credit."
Oswalt struggled with his location and worked in and out of trouble all night. Still, the three runs the Reds scored off him came on a bloop single, groundout and sacrifice fly.
"It's better than bullets all over the field, I guess," Oswalt said. "It's kind of bad when you throw a quality pitch and they hit it over the infield or put it in play and score."
Garner said Oswalt wasn't himself.
"He wasn't as sharp and was missing location all night long," he said. "I looked at the board at replays and could see (catcher) Brad (Ausmus) setting up away and the ball would be up and in. A couple of balls that were hit, he set up in and they ran back across the plate. Even at that, we're still in the ballgame."
The Astros couldn't capitalize on their nine hits or the six walks and one hit batter Reds pitchers provided. They left 10 runners on base.
"It's one of those nights you had to battle to stay in the game and I really didn't have anything to go with," Oswalt said. "Later in the game in the sixth, seventh inning, I felt better than the first four."
With the Astros trailing 3-1 in the sixth, Wilson led off with a homer — his first since April 10 — to get the Astros within a run. They had runners at second and third with two outs later in the inning, but reliever Rick White got Craig Biggio to ground out.
Mike Gallo started the seventh for the Astros and was pulled after giving up a one-out single to Adam Dunn. Chad Qualls came in and surrendered consecutive singles to Rich Aurilia and Scott Hatteberg to load the bases. Qualls struck out Austin Kearns swinging for the second out and got ahead of Brandon Phillips with two strikes. But Phillips rolled the next pitch back up the middle for a two-run single.