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Oswalt solid, but Astros fall short

Oswalt solid, but Astros fall short

HOUSTON -- Considering the Astros made some headline-grabbing moves following Friday's game, their 4-1 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers took somewhat of a backseat to the other news of the day.

But calling up super-prospect Hunter Pence can't reverse the damage the Astros have done to their record in the last week. After winning five straight, the Astros have lost seven and continue to fade into the background in the National League Central standings.

Playing before 40,530 fans, the Astros' results, minus Roy Oswalt's, could be described as lackluster. Beyond Carlos Lee's RBI single in the first, the Astros offered no help to their ace right-hander.

They produced at least one baserunner in each of the first five innings but much like their series in Pittsburgh, they were unable to make anything happen.

"It's just not clicking," Oswalt said. "Hopefully, we have to get it on track. If we get too far behind, it's going to be hard to catch up."

Oswalt wasn't as dominant as he normally would be, but he managed to hold the Brewers scoreless through six, despite walking three batters. But he labored through a 30-pitch seventh inning, which ultimately set up the loss.

He yielded a leadoff hit to Geoff Jenkins and a double to Gabe Gross before striking out Craig Counsell during a seven-pitch at-bat. Tony Gwynn Jr., hitting for Capuano, drew a walk to load the bases, and after Rickie Weeks grounded out to drive in Jenkins, J.J. Hardy put the final nail in the coffin, dropping a double just inside the line in shallow left to give the Brewers a 3-1 lead.

Oswalt intended to walk Gwynn in order to set up the double play.

"[Manager Phil Garner] asked me if I wanted to walk him intentionally," Oswalt said, referring to a quick meeting on the mound with his skipper before Gwynn's at-bat. "I said, 'Let me throw a few pitches around the zone and see if he'll swing at something early.'

"The only walk that really concerned me was [Craig] Counsell [leading off the third]. The other guys, I was trying to do something different. I felt good tonight. I finally got behind the ball toward the end of the game. The third inning, I was falling off some."

Similar to their last three games with the Pirates, the Astros squandered multiple scoring opportunities. But they also ran into some bad luck, as evidenced by Lance Berkman's ill-fated base hit in the third.

Berkman singled to shallow right but Gross, noticing Berkman had taken a somewhat healthy turn, fired the ball to first. Capuano tagged Berkman after he attempted to scamper back, followed by a move to second.

"I thought it was going to bounce and spin away from [Gross] and if he mishandled it at all, I was going to second base," Berkman said. "So I was looking for him to make a bobble or make a mistake. Instead, he came up on a barehand or whatever, and I didn't know that the pitcher moved behind me at first base. I was watching the ball. He made a good throw and it was just a good play."

"It's not necessarily a bad play," Garner said. "It's a hustling play on the pitcher's part. But if he rounds first, he can't see what's behind him. If you happen to catch a glimpse of a guy coming behind you, yes. But if you're anticipating that, maybe you'll go on the next base, and all of a sudden they make a nice play, and they fire and the pitcher's right there -- it's a tough play."

The Astros haven't lost seven straight since May 18-24, 2005. With Friday's loss, they've matched their season-low of four games under .500. Garner's lineups have changed nearly on an everyday basis so far this season, and he'll use a new one again on Saturday when he marks Pence down in center field. That may not be the only move that's made.

"We've had different lineups during this seven-game stretch, and we've lost," Garner said. "Pick any lineup, it's different from the next day -- I'll give it consideration."

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

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