Oswalt a shutout machine once more

Oswalt a shutout machine once more

HOUSTON -- Roy Oswalt etched himself in Astros' lore once again on Thursday night.

Oswalt recorded his second consecutive shutout, set a club record, faced the minimum number of batters and led the Astros to their 14th win in their past 15 games as they topped the Pirates, 6-0.

"I don't know how to describe it," manager Cecil Cooper said. "Last time, it was magnificent. Tonight, just awesome. Roy was sensational."

Oswalt's scoreless innings streak reached 32 1/3, breaking the old mark of 31 by J.R. Richard, who did so from May 26-June 11, 1980. More importantly, the Astros gained ground in the Wild Card standings, moving to within three of the flailing Brewers. The Phillies, who are tied with the Astros in the Wild Card race, beat Milwaukee Thursday night.

The game seemed to have the same sense of urgency felt by the city. With a Category 3 or 4 hurricane expected to barrel toward Galveston Bay and Houston in the next 36 hours, Texans in the southeastern portion of the state are seeking safety.

The Pirates, on their way to another last place finish in the National League Central standings, seemed hasty to get out of town as well. The game lasted only two hours and nine minutes and required only 90 pitches from Oswalt, who recorded his 14th career complete game and his fifth shutout. He received a boost from the defense, which turned three double plays -- one for each hit Oswalt allowed.

"I was trying to make it as quick as possible so I could get home," Oswalt said jokingly. "Somebody said there was a hurricane on the way so I was trying to be as quick as possible."

Oswalt is the first pitcher to throw consecutive complete-game shutouts in 2008, and he's also the first with back-to-back shutouts in the big leagues since Brandon Webb, who threw three in a row in August of 2007.

Catcher Brad Ausmus, asked to compare this outing to Oswalt's one-hitter in Colorado, gave the edge to the latter.

"He actually wasn't as good today," Ausmus said. "He was good, but he wasn't as good as his last start. He was jumping out a little bit. Not a lot, but enough. He didn't have quite the command of his fastball, but still, Roy was still 95 percent of his best, which is better than 99 percent of the league."

Said Oswalt: "The first two or three innings, I didn't think I had what I had in Colorado, but I caught a second wind after the third and I felt pretty good the rest of the game."

He also helped out with his bat. He completed a successful squeeze play in the third to score the first run, but the Astros broke the game open with a five-run fifth. Doug Mientkiewicz made a throwing error on a Luis Castillo ground ball, and the floodgates opened, clearing a path for four unearned runs.

Reggie Abercrombie and Oswalt contributed run-scoring singles, while Darin Erstad added an RBI grounder, followed by a sacrifice fly from Mark Loretta and a run-scoring double from Miguel Tejada.

That was plenty for Oswalt, who retired 20 consecutive hitters starting with an inning-ending double play in the first and ending with a base hit by Mientkiewicz in the eighth.

"Anytime you're playing behind a person like that, the game is quick, it keeps you on your toes," Abercrombie said. "He's just a great pitcher."

The Astros are 13 games over .500 for the first time this season and have won nine straight home games, marking a new season high and the longest home-winning streak since they won nine in a row in 2005 -- the year they went to the World Series.

Although more pressing issues are front and center in Houston, for just over two hours on Thursday night, fans perhaps had something else to think about other than swirling winds and potential storm surges.

"Maybe it gave them something to forget about their troubles," Cooper said. "It's good for the city, and it's good for everybody. I even forgot about things that were surrounding us and watched Roy work. It was pretty special."

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