Houston keeps pace WC; Womack hurt

HOUSTON (AP) -- Even as the pain in his ribs got worse each
inning, Roy Oswalt kept pitching.

By the time it was too much to bear, he had done his job and

Oswalt fought through a nagging ribcage injury to become the
NL's first 19-game winner, keeping the Houston Astros close in the
playoff race with a 10-3 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on
Monday night.

The Astros remained 1½ games behind the Chicago Cubs, who beat
Cincinnati 12-5 and lead the wild-card standings by a game over
idle San Francisco.

"It's a little desperate now -- sure. But it was desperate on
the road, too. At least we're home. The guys feel more comfortable
here," Houston's Jeff Bagwell said.

Oswalt gave the NL Central-champion Cardinals a scare by hitting
second baseman Tony Womack in the left hand with a pitch in the
seventh inning.

Womack wasn't seriously injured, however. He went to the
hospital for X-rays, which were negative.

"It's sore but there are no fractures," Womack said. "I don't
expect to play tomorrow. I just need to be healthy for the
playoffs. If that means taking a few days off, so be it."

Oswalt was in pain afterward, too.

The ribcage "started bothering me a little," said Oswalt, who
takes a shot of Novocain before each start. "I felt great for five
innings. Then it seemed like it was trying to wear off after

The victory snapped St. Louis' five-game winning streak. The
Cardinals appeared to cruise in this one, having already clinched
the best record in the league.

Their anxiety was briefly piqued, though, after Womack went

The speedy leadoff hitter writhed in pain on the ground before
coming out moments later. After returning from his trip to the
hospital, Womack's hand was noticeably swollen.

"There's not anything else about this game that I even care
about," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "Tony Womack is so
much the concern right now."

Pinch-hitter Jason Lane homered and Craig Biggio hit a two-run
double to end his longest hitless streak of the season. Carlos
Beltran added a two-run triple, Morgan Ensberg had a two-run
double, and Bagwell and Raul Chavez singled in runs to send the
Astros to their fourth win in five games.

Oswalt (19-10) pitched six scoreless innings before allowing a
couple of runs in the seventh. He gave up nine hits, striking out
six and walking one as he inched closer to his first 20-win season.

The right-hander is 6-1 in his last eight starts.

"I didn't see any effect from any injury," St. Louis' Reggie
Sanders said. "As a matter of fact, he was throwing harder than
usual. I think he stepped it up because he knows how important this
game is for them."

The Astros continued to emerge from an offensive funk after
beating Milwaukee 11-7 on Sunday. Before that, Houston scored more
than two runs only once in six games.

In the second inning, Ensberg and Biggio had two-run doubles,
and Chavez and Bagwell added run-scoring singles to give Houston a
6-0 lead.

Beltran's two-run triple in the fourth chased Woody Williams
(11-8). The Astros added another run on Lance Berkman's sacrifice
fly in the sixth to take a nine-run lead.

Sanders and Marlon Anderson singled in runs in the seventh for
St. Louis. Lane homered in the eighth to extend Houston's lead.

Anderson added an RBI single in the ninth.

Williams gave up a season-high eight runs and 10 hits in three
innings, tying his shortest outing of the year. He allowed two
earned runs or fewer in his previous four starts.

"Beating a guy like Woody Williams ... is a good sign,"
Bagwell said. "Our guys took advantage of the fact that he didn't
have his usual great control."

Game notes
Oswalt got his 200th strikeout of the season, the second
time in his career he's reached that mark. ... RHP Roger Clemens
will start Wednesday against St. Louis, but his next appearance is
still being discussed with manager Phil Garner. Clemens is almost
certain to take the mound during one of Houston's three games
against Colorado next weekend. "I wanted to save all my energy for
what's coming down this week," Clemens said. "I wouldn't even be
opposed to two or three innings the very next day, if I had to."
... Sanders got the first two hits of his career against Oswalt.
He's now 2-for-9. ... Lane hit his second pinch-hit homer of the