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Oswalt, Astros blank Pirates after lengthy delay

Sep 28, 2006 - 10:27 PM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Not even a nearly 3 1/2-hour rain delay can slow down Roy Oswalt and the Houston Astros.

Oswalt tossed seven stellar innings and combined with three relievers on a five-hitter as the Astros ran their winning streak to nine games with a 3-0 triumph over the Pittsburgh Pirates in the finale of a three-game series.

Only about 10 percent of the announced crowd of 12,671 waited out the delay in chilly, drizzly conditions.

"It definitely was not a playoff atmosphere today," said Houston closer Brad Lidge, who notched his 32nd save in 38 chances with a scoreless ninth. "But at the same time, the game is the most important game of the year so far for us, so you don't have to motivate yourself since it's such an important game.

"But it was a different atmosphere than what you're used to this time of year."

The game was delayed 3 hours, 25 minutes from its scheduled 12:35 EDT start because of steady rain, but that did not stop Oswalt from throwing 98 quality pitches.

"You keep hearing 1 (o'clock start), 2, 3, it's going to start, and we finally made it at 4," Oswalt said. "But it worked out pretty well.

"When I started the first inning it looked like I would have to pitch through rain the whole day, but that was not the case and I made it through pretty well."

Oswalt (15-8) yielded four hits and two walks with six strikeouts as he won his sixth consecutive decision for the Astros, who began the day 1 1/2 games behind the first-place St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central Division. The Cardinals are home against Milwaukee on Thursday.

"It looked like it'd be a pretty nasty day," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "I kept looking at the weather reports in (my office), and they didn't look good. I applaud the Pirates and the umpires for a lot of patience.

"I don't think anybody really wanted to come back (for a prospective makeup game) Monday, but they showed a lot of patience and were willing to give it a lot of time. The first couple innings it was real misty here in the city but then it cleared up and really was a nice day by the end."

Oswalt, who signed a five-year, $73 million contract extension four weeks ago, improved to 3-0 with a 0.90 ERA in three starts against the Pirates this year. He continued his late-season push for Cy Young Award consideration by winning his sixth straight decision.

"I think Roy's not making salary drive - he already did that - he must be making an awards drive," Garner said. "I've got to tell you, he's come on strong. He's been absolutely golden for us. This was just what we needed today."

Pirates rookie Tom Gorzelanny (2-5) was perfect until surrendering a single to Chris Burke with one out in the fifth. Jason Lane and Adam Everett followed with base hits to score Burke and open the scoring.

Gorzelanny hit Brad Ausmus to load the bases, then walked Oswalt to force in a run. Willy Taveras grounded into a force play at the plate before Pittsburgh's starter walked Morgan Ensberg to stake the Astros to a 3-0 lead.

"That one inning, if I could have avoided that, things would be a lot different right now," Gorzelanny said.

Pittsburgh had a chance to get back in the game in the sixth, but Xavier Nady grounded out with two outs and the bases loaded.

The Pirates got nothing going thereafter against Oswalt, Trever Miller, Chad Qualls or Brad Lidge as they absorbed their seventh straight defeat.

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