Oswalt wins 20th game

HOUSTON (AP) -- With everyone cheering all around him, Houston
Astros manager Phil Garner tried hard not to look at the scoreboard
in left field.

But as the crowd grew louder and his players whooped it up,
Garner caved in to his curiosity. The scoreboard brought welcome
news: San Francisco had lost, putting the Astros even closer to a
playoff spot.

"I said, 'I'm not going to look, I'm not going to look,"
Garner said after Houston took the NL wild-card lead with a 9-3 win
over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.

"But then I saw one of the fans down the third-base line jump
up and start pointing at the scoreboard. And I saw it. It was
pretty exciting."

Roy Oswalt became the NL's first 20-game winner, and Jeff Kent
and Craig Biggio each homered twice to move the Astros one win from
completing an amazing late-season playoff push.

They are a game ahead of the Giants, who lost 7-3 to the Los
Angeles Dodgers. The Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the
postseason race after losing their fifth straight, 8-6 to Atlanta.

With a victory in the regular-season finale Sunday or a Giants
loss, Houston will clinch the NL's final playoff spot -- an
improbable thought almost a month ago when it was four games below
.500 and seven games behind the Cubs.

"It just shows that you should never give up," Houston's Jeff
Bagwell said. "The middle of August was a tough situation. We just
kept grinding and grinding and here we are."

Astros owner Drayton McLane sheepishly acknowledged he needed to
cancel a business trip to Poland, the Czech Republic and Latvia
that was scheduled for Oct. 10. McLane planned the trip about six
weeks ago.

"I thought I might be able to do some other things," McLane
said. "Guess we might be busy then, huh?"

Roger Clemens was set to take the mound against the Rockies on
only three days' rest.

"That could be the biggest game we play all year," Garner
said. "I don't want to leave any doubt. I think you've got to give
it your best shot."

If the Astros lose and the Giants win Sunday, the teams would
play Monday afternoon in San Francisco. The winner would get the
wild card.

Morgan Ensberg and Eric Bruntlett hit solo shots to help the
Astros set a season high with six homers, extending their
franchise-record home winning streak to 17 games.

Kent hit a two-run shot off Adam Bernero in the fifth for his
278th home run as a second baseman, breaking Ryne Sandberg's major
league record. Kent got a curtain call from the crowd, emerging
from the dugout to doff his cap.

Oswalt (20-10) won 20 games for the first time in his career,
allowing only one run and five hits in seven innings. The
27-year-old right-hander posted the eighth 20-win season in club
history, joining Larry Dierker, Mike Hampton, Jose Lima, J.R.
Richard, Mike Scott and Joe Niekro, who did it twice.

The only drama of the evening came in a game being played more
than 1,500 miles away at Dodger Stadium.

The sellout crowd of 43,279 let out an incredible roar in the
third inning when the scoreboard posted the news they'd all been
waiting to see: Los Angeles 7, San Francisco 3.

"The crowd lit up. I didn't know what was going on and then I
looked out there," Oswalt said. "Then I knew we had it. My
thoughts were, we have to win this game now."

Houston wasted little time jumping out to an early lead for its
sixth straight win and eighth in its last nine -- the Astros led off
the first four innings with home runs.

Shawn Estes (15-8) allowed five runs on seven hits, including
four homers, in four innings. It was the first time since Aug. 29
that Estes hadn't made it into the seventh inning of a start.

"I wouldn't change one pitch I threw tonight," Estes said.
"They are hot. They are hitting everything."

Biggio hit a leadoff homer in the first, Kent connected in the
second and Biggio went deep again to lead off the third, drawing
chants of "Biggio! Biggio!" from the crowd.

"It's an unbelievable feeling -- almost too hard to put in
words," Biggio said. "We're just fired up around here. We have
something huge at stake tomorrow."

With the bases loaded later in the inning, Estes walked Ensberg
to score Bagwell and give Houston a 4-1 lead.

Biggio nearly homered again in the eighth, driving a pitch from
Tim Harikkala deep into left field -- almost hitting the scoreboard
-- for a sacrifice fly that scored Bruntlett.

Vinny Castilla homered off Oswalt in the second and the Rockies
added two more runs in the eighth on Jorge Piedra's home run and
Royce Clayton's RBI double.

Game notes
Biggio hit his career-high 24th homer. He also extended his
NL record of leadoff homers to 41. ... Colorado 1B Todd Helton's
hitting streak ended at 11. He finished the game 0-for-3. ... The
Astros sold out their 23rd game of the season.