Still, Roy Oswalt wishes he had put his glove down just a few inches closer to the ground when Brad Hawpe sent a hard grounder his way in the fifth inning. The ball skidded up the middle for a base hit, and as it turned out, that would be the only hit Oswalt would allow during his 13th career complete game and fifth career shutout.
The Astros won, 2-0, behind the strength of a Hunter Pence two-run homer and a gem by Oswalt, whose one-hitter was the 17th complete-game shutout ever thrown at Coors Field.
It was also only the second one-hitter at this ballpark, and the first since Pat Rapp of the Florida Marlins threw one on Sept. 17, 1995. Hideo Nomo of the Los Angeles Dodgers threw the only no-hitter at Coors Field on Sept. 17, 1996.
It could have been the second no-hitter in the stadium's history, and Oswalt light-heartedly blamed himself for that.
"I thought it was going to jump up, but it stayed down and went right under my glove," Oswalt said of Hawpe's base hit.
In the wake of the Brewers' CC Sabathia's near no-hitter that set off a firestorm when the official scorer stood by his original call of an Andy LaRoche infield single, Oswalt laughed off any suggestion that Hawpe's hit could have been ruled an E-1.
"That was a base hit," Oswalt said. "It would have been a good play if I would have made it. I saw it hop when he first hit it. The second bounce just kind of stayed down on the grass and I didn't get the glove down."
He'll take the one-hitter, the first thrown by an Astros since Chris Holt did so in Milwaukee in April of 2000. Oswalt and his mound opponent, Rockies lefty Jeff Francis, cruised through the first half of the game with barely a blemish. Oswalt was perfect against the Rockies through four; Francis was the same against the Astros through three.
Oswalt threw 36 pitches through the first four frames, an average of nine pitches per inning. His early efficiency helped him get through nine innings with just 102 pitches.
"I looked up once and I saw 69 or 68 in the sixth or seventh -- it might have been seventh -- and I was thinking 'Man, I threw more pitches than that.'" Oswalt said. "I had some quick innings, some ground balls. [I] wasn't trying to strike a lot of guys out, just trying to throw the ball down in the zone and get some ground balls."
Unfortunately for the Astros, Oswalt's masterpiece didn't help them gain ground in the Wild Card race. Milwaukee's Ben Sheets pitched a five-hitter in a 1-0 win over the Padres to maintain their seven-game lead over Houston.
"I did do a little scoreboard watching," manager Cecil Cooper said. "I looked up and I saw what transpired in the other city [Milwaukee]. We definitely needed it and [Oswalt] stepped up big time. A complete game, and he really went after him in the ninth inning when they had the big boys coming up. He went right through them -- just an outstanding performance by Roy."
Oswalt had one brief health scare in the sixth inning after fielding Willy Taveras' sacrifice bunt. Oswalt said he felt his knee pop, and after consulting with assistant athletic trainer Rex Jones, he threw a few warmup pitches and convinced Cooper he could continue pitching. Oswalt then retired the next five batters.
"I went to field that bunt that Willy put down and something popped in my knee," he said. "It was kind of a sharp pain at first and I really didn't feel it after that. I just wanted to throw a few pitches to make sure the first pitch doesn't lock up on me and I throw a pitch right down the middle of the plate for [Matt] Holliday. I felt pretty good after that inning."
The defense played exceptionally well behind Oswalt, who benefitted from a diving play from Jose Castillo. Oswalt had walked Taveras to lead off the ninth, and Holliday sent a hard grounder toward third, where Castillo snared the ball and threw to second, where he beat Taveras by an inch. Oswalt struck out the last two batters to end the game.
"[Oswalt] said, "Atta boy, good play," Castillo recalled.
Oswalt extended his scoreless streak to 23 1/3 innings, the longest for a Houston hurler since Roger Clemens pitched 24 scoreless frames from April 8-29, 2005. The Astros ace hasn't allowed a run since the second inning of his start against the Reds on Aug. 27.
Brad Ausmus compared this outing with Oswalt's performance against the Diamondbacks on Aug. 17, when he threw eight shutout innings and struck out 10. Ausmus said that was Oswalt's best game, but this one against the Rockies "might have been just as good."
"We were through five innings quickly," Ausmus said. "I looked up, and he had 40-something pitches. He was getting some quick outs early and he was able to go the distance."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less