Mets take first lead in three games in eighth inning

HOUSTON (AP) -- When Mike Cameron noticed that the New York Mets' lineup card was posted Sunday morning, he took a quick glance and then did a double take.

Making sure that really was his name in the sixth spot, he said "OK," smiled and stretched his arms.

So maybe it wasn't just a coincidence that a few hours later, shortly after the trade deadline passed, he led off the eighth inning with a double off the wall and turned it into the pivotal go-ahead run in a 9-4 victory that ended the Houston Astros'
seven-game winning streak.

Cameron, the Mets' most prominent player mentioned in trade talks, insisted afterward that his focus was strictly on baseball, but New York sure played like a relaxed team -- not one going into the finale of a seven-game road trip having won just once, plus
facing the looming threat of a roster shake-up to add Manny Ramirez
or Danys Baez.

The Mets gave Astros starter Roy Oswalt his worst pounding at home since Opening Day and then still had to get a bloop single from
seldom starter Ramon Castro to take their first lead since the early innings Thursday night. Once ahead, they added four more runs in the ninth, the same amount they'd scored -- total -- over the previous three games. New York finished with a season-high 17 hits.

"I think it's all coincidental," manager Willie Randolph said. "That's just the way it falls sometimes."

Houston lost for only the second time in 15 games. Still, the Astros went 22-7 in July for their most wins and highest winning percentage ever in the month. More importantly, they go into August leading the wild-card race.

Oswalt struggled over six innings, later blaming a dead arm, but left with a 4-3 lead thanks to a career-best three hits and three RBI from Eric Bruntlett. The bullpen blew it, giving up six runs over the last three innings. Dan Wheeler (1-3) allowed the deciding run before Russ Springer gave up four more in the ninth on three hits and a walk without retiring a batter.

"They've been stingy and they'll do it again," Astros manager Phil Garner said of a relief corps that had given up only four runs in its previous 29 innings.

Cameron said before Saturday's game that he hadn't slept because he was getting so many calls as word spread that he might be headed to Boston for Ramirez. He said he thought he could handle it but couldn't. He then went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.

On Sunday, he was 3-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Two of his hits came after the deadline passed.

"We just decided that we were going to have to go out there and take it," Cameron said. "We faced a tough pitcher and we fought it out and came back and figured out how to win it. ... We got good hits from everyone and we just stood our ground."

The game was therapeutic for several other Mets, too.

Carlos Beltran, booed all four games by an Astros series-record crowd of 172,835, was 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a stolen base.

"He just needed a good game to get going -- not just against the Astros, against anybody," Randolph said.

Doug Mientkiewicz, making his first start since being ejected Wednesday night, also went 3-for-5.

Cliff Floyd had two hits, including an RBI single in the seventh that tied it at 4.

There were no sparks in the first meeting between Oswalt and Floyd since a June beaning that emptied both benches and bullpens. But it was a good pitcher-hitter battle.

Floyd missed a three-run homer by inches on the first pitch he saw from Oswalt and then ended up lining into an inning-ending double play. Leading off the fourth, he hit his 24th homer for New York's first run.

Aaron Heilman (4-3) pitched one scoreless inning for the victory. Roberto Hernandez protected it in the eighth and closer Braden Looper pitched the ninth, even though the big rally in the top of the inning prevented it from being a save situation. Houston loaded the bases with two out on a hit batter, an infield single and a walk, but Adam Everett fouled out to end it.

Oswalt allowed three runs on nine hits, striking out three and walking one. This was the first time in his 23 starts that he didn't get a decision.

"My arm's dead, my legs are dead -- I'm just grinding," Oswalt said. "I think it's just the innings piling up on me. Usually you have a dead arm around 100 innings. Maybe for me it's around 170."

New York starter Kaz Ishii allowed three runs on five hits over four innings. He walked three and two of them scored.

Mets bench coach Sandy Alomar was ejected from the dugout in the first inning following a strange sequence that began with Houston's Morgan Ensberg thinking he'd walked, but it was only ball three. Time was called for him to go back to the batter's box, but Lance Berkman was trotting from first to second. New York tagged him in a rundown, but he was allowed to stay at first.

Randolph complained for several minutes. Seconds after he returned to the bench, third base umpire Rob Drake tossed Alomar.

Game notes
Had Houston won, it would've had 23 wins in July, a franchise-best for any month. ... Sunday was Family Day for the Astros, with players' wives and children on the field before the game. It was awkward timing considering the happy scene was only hours before the trade deadline.