Series: Game 1 of 2

Houston leads 1-0 (as of 5/25)

Game 1: Tuesday, May 25
Chi Cubs0Final
Game 2: Wednesday, May 26
Chi Cubs3Final

Cubs 0

(25-19, 12-10 away)

Astros 5

(25-20, 13-11 home)

    8:05 PM ET, May 25, 2004

    Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas 

    123456789 R H E
    CHC 000000000 0 3 0
    HOU 01003010 - 5 9 0

    W: R. Oswalt (3-3)

    L: C. Zambrano (4-2)

    Oswalt allows three hits over seven innings

    HOUSTON (AP) -- Roy Oswalt pumped his fist and nodded knowingly toward the Astros' dugout as he walked off the mound to a standing ovation.

    It had been a long time since Oswalt and the Astros felt this good.

    Oswalt pitched seven sharp innings for his first win in more than a month, and Houston stopped a five-game losing streak Tuesday night with a 5-0 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

    "You have to take some of the weight off your shoulders," Oswalt said. "I think I pitch better under pressure. My last two outings were mediocre so I wanted to change that"

    Oswalt (3-3) allowed only three hits and struck out eight, dominating a lineup missing Sammy Sosa in the first showdown of the season between the NL Central's favorites.

    Lance Berkman and Orlando Palmeiro homered for Houston, which moved within a half-game of the second-place Cubs, behind surprising Cincinnati.

    Dan Miceli pitched a perfect eighth and Octavio Dotel finished the three-hitter, Houston's third shutout this season.

    The win couldn't have come at a better time for the slumping Astros, particularly since it came against Carlos Zambrano, who hadn't lost to Houston since Aug. 14, 2002.

    "This is a big win, especially with who we were going against," Astros manager Jimy Williams said. "(Zambrano) has always been really tough on not only us, but the entire league."

    The NL's top offense bounced back from a 7-0 loss to the Reds on Sunday that punctuated the season-high skid.

    Jeff Kent singled in Craig Biggio, and Berkman followed with a two-run homer, his 11th of the year, for a 4-0 lead in the fifth.

    Kent's sacrifice fly in the seventh drove in Adam Everett, who narrowly beat Paul Bako's tag at the plate on a tremendous throw from Todd Hollandsworth.

    Houston even got some offense from an unexpected source. Palmeiro, filling in for slumping Richard Hidalgo, homered in the second inning to give the Astros a 1-0 lead.

    The Cubs, who have struggled a bit offensively without Sosa and leadoff hitter Mark Grudzielanek, were shut out for the third time in two weeks.

    "It was all them tonight and just a little us," Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "We had no kind of offense."

    Oswalt earned his first win since a 2-0 victory over Milwaukee on April 16, breaking a career-long six-start winless streak. The right-hander has now won his last five decisions against the Cubs.

    He really got it going in the third, retiring 13 batters in a row before Moises Alou singled in the seventh. After Derrek Lee grounded out to end the inning, the crowd of 40,154 rose to its feet as Oswalt walked briskly to the dugout.

    Oswalt even forced a bit of a smile as catcher Raul Chavez ran over to greet him -- proof that this was more than the average May victory.

    "I was under .500 and I didn't want to get any worse," Oswalt said. "I was throwing mediocre."

    Zambrano (4-2), who won all three of his starts against Houston last season with a 0.85 ERA, took the loss against the Astros.

    He went just five innings, giving up four runs on eight hits and striking out five. It was the first time all season the right-hander didn't last six innings.

    "(Zambrano) battled and kept us in the game for awhile and that's all you can ask," Cubs catcher Paul Bako said. "We didn't hit anything hard all night. Just a few flyballs and groundballs. Oswalt was very tough."

    Game notes

    Kent extended his hitting streak to 11 games. ... 1B Jeff Bagwell's attempt to snag a pop fly in the second was thwarted by a fan who caught the ball -- a la Cubs fan Steve Bartman. The man broke into a sheepish grin as the crowd booed and Bagwell angrily stared at him. ... Everett had his league-leading 11th sacrifice hit. Houston also leads the league with 33 sacrifice bunts this season.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press