Oswalt maintains Astros' slim playoff hopes

HOUSTON -- Roy Oswalt tipped his cap to acknowledge another standing ovation at Minute Maid Park on Thursday night. He can only hope he gets one more start this season.

The Astros ace allowed two hits and struck out three in six innings to lead Houston to an 8-6 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. Oswalt has won 23 of 24 decisions, including his last eight, against Cincinnati and the Astros needed this one to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

Houston came into the game trailing New York and Milwaukee by 3 1/2 games in the race for the NL wild card. The Mets beat Chicago 7-6 and the Brewers beat Pittsburgh 5-1 in 10 innings to push the Astros to the brink -- one more Houston loss or victory by either the Mets or Brewers will eliminate them.

The Astros open a three-game series against Atlanta on Friday.

"We're just playing," Oswalt said. "We've got three more games. We'll see if we can win those games and see what happens."

The Astros will only play a makeup game against the Cubs on Monday if they're within a half-game of the Brewers and Mets after Sunday's games. Oswalt would make that start.

"I won't enjoy it until we actually get to a World Series and win it," Oswalt said. "That's when you enjoy it. This is another start. Hopefully, I'll be able to start Monday."

Michael Bourn matched a career high with four RBIs and Oswalt added an RBI single as the Astros beat the Reds for the 12th time in 15 meetings. Oswalt (17-10), pitching on three days' rest, improved to 11-2 in his last 13 decisions.

The Astros built an 8-1 lead, then couldn't help but watch the manual scoreboard in left field for updates. The Mets, then the Brewers, posted victories before the ninth inning ended in Houston.

"Look at the scoreboard, try to win the game, look at the scoreboard, try to win the game, look at the scoreboard again. It's back and forth," Bourn said. "We're just trying to hope they lose and try to take care of our business."

Oswalt breezed after giving up a solo homer to Corey Patterson in the first. Patterson's 10th home run of the season was only the second allowed by Oswalt in his last seven starts.

Oswalt said he needed an inning to find his rhythm.

"Coming out of the bullpen, I felt a little rusty," Oswalt said. "Second inning, I started getting normal counts and the ball started coming out of my hand pretty well."

The Astros loaded the bases on Johnny Cueto (9-14) in the second and Bourn drove a double into the left-field corner to make it 3-1.

Houston had the bases loaded again with two outs in the third and this time, Oswalt drove in a run with a bloop single to right. Oswalt leads the Astros' pitching staff with five RBIs. Cueto walked Kazuo Matsui to force in another run and Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker brought in reliever Jon Adkins.

Gary Majewski relieved Adkins in the fifth and Matsui added an RBI single to stretch the lead to 6-1.

That was more than enough for Oswalt, who didn't give up a hit after Jay Bruce led off the second with a single. Oswalt walked three, but retired most of the others on groundouts.

"He was the same Oswalt," Patterson said. "He was aggressive, he comes right at you and he sticks to his game plan. That's why he's one of the best pitchers in the game."

Oswalt came out to pitch the seventh, but Houston manager Cecil Cooper followed him to the mound and replaced him with left-hander Wesley Wright. Oswalt tipped his cap to the fans as he walked back to the dugout.

Oswalt said he wanted to go to the mound and shake hands with catcher Brad Ausmus, who may retire after this season. Oswalt and Ausmus have played together for seven seasons.

Matsui and Bourn added RBI hits in the seventh off Josh Roenicke. The Astros' 16 hits matched a season high.

Danny Richar and Javier Valentin had RBI singles for Cincinnati in the ninth off Alberto Arias. Fernando Nieve relieved and Jerry Hairston, Jr. hit a three-run homer before Cooper brought in Jose Valverde, who finished for his 43rd save.

"We're still playing, that's the main thing," Cooper said. "We're still alive."

The Reds lost for just the fourth time in 12 games. They had won six straight series before losing two of three in Houston.

Game notes
Oswalt improved to 28-8 in September and October. ... Oswalt has pitched at least six innings in his last 12 starts. ... Cueto's outing marked the 46th start by a rookie for the Reds this season. ... The retractable roof at Minute Maid Park remained open for the 16th time this season. The Astros are 10-6 in games with the roof open.