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Astros get one hit, but Oswalt makes it work vs. Mets

HOUSTON (AP) -- Fresh off signing a $73 million contract
extension, Roy Oswalt is showing his worth to the Houston Astros.

Oswalt took a perfect-game bid into the seventh inning and
struck out a season-high nine as the Astros beat the New York Mets
2-1 Sunday despite getting just one hit.

"Overall, stuff-wise, this was probably the best I've had in a
while," Oswalt said. "I had all four pitches working."

Oswalt (11-8), who signed the five-year extension on Tuesday,
didn't allow a baserunner until Jose Reyes beat out a bouncer to
shortstop leading off the seventh. Adam Everett tried for a
barehanded pickup but couldn't come up with the ball.

Oswalt said he didn't start thinking about a perfect game until
just before Reyes' at-bat.

"I knew I had a long way to go, nine outs to go," Oswalt said.
"Mentally, it's tough. You make one mistake over the plate and
they can hurt you."

Oswalt was surprised it lasted that long. He throws mostly
strikes and expects opponents to hit him every time he pitches.

"They happen more to guys who don't throw as many strikes as I
do," he said. "A lot of times, when you're in the zone so much, a
guy can hit it here or there. When you throw a lot of strikes, it's
hard to get a no-hitter."

For most of the game, the Mets struggled to even make contact.

Oswalt struck out the side in the third and ended the fourth and
fifth innings with strikeouts. He allowed three hits in 7 2/3
innings.

"Roy always has a good fastball," Houston manager Phil Garner
said, "but I think his breaking ball was exceptional today. He had
great arm action."

Chad Qualls finished the eighth, and Brad Lidge finished for his
29th save in 34 chances.

The Mets failed to complete what would have been their first
three-game sweep in Houston since 1984 and lost for just the second
time when allowing a single hit. The first came was against St.
Louis on Sept. 14, 1991, when Ray Lankford hit a two-run single off
David Cone in a 2-1 game.

"It's a strange game line, but that's baseball," Randolph
said. "Not too many opportunities, a sacrifice fly here and there.
Real strange game."

Orlando Hernandez (9-10), who hadn't pitched since Aug. 20,
struck out four and walked six in 5 1/3 innings as the Mets lost
for just the third time in their last 16 games.

The Mets had rested the 40-year-old El Duque because of fatigue,
but Hernandez was encouraged by his 106-pitch effort.

"I was feeling good," he said. "My control is still not good
sometimes, but I'm feeling good. That's important."

Hernandez walked Oswalt to load the bases in the second but got
out of the jam by throwing a called third strike past Willy
Taveras. Hernandez walked Craig Biggio leading off the third, then
retired 10 in a row.

After El Duque walked Lance Berkman and Aubrey Huff starting the
sixth, Mets manager Willie Randolph visited the mound. Hernandez
plunked Luke Scott on the right elbow, loading the bases, and
Roberto Hernandez relieved.

Before he hit Scott, El Duque convinced Randolph he was OK.

"He was pitching great, said he felt strong," Randolph said.
"It was his game to win right there. I trust him, he's throwing
great and they had one hit at the time. I wanted to give him the
opportunity for him to win the game."

With third baseman Chris Woodward playing back, Everett dropped
a bunt between the pitcher's mound and third base as Berkman scored
easily.

The way the Astros' offense was sputtering -- again -- Garner
thought the suicide squeeze was worth the risk.

"We were having a hard time getting a run across," he said,
"so I didn't hesitate to call that."

After Brad Ausmus was intentionally walked to reload the bases,
Oswalt got a standing ovation as he stepped to the plate. A career
.161 hitter, he tapped a slow grounder to second baseman Jose
Valentin and was out by a step.

Oswalt said the close play disappointed him as much as losing
the perfect game.

"I thought I was safe," he said. "I was hoping to leg that
one out and get another run."

Taveras walked and stole second leading off the seventh. Biggio
dropped a sacrifice bunt and Taveras scored on Lane's pinch-flyout
to Endy Chavez, who played center field for Carlos Beltran.

Beltran crashed into the left-field fence and bruised his left
knee in Saturday's 4-2 win. Randolph said Beltran could return to
the lineup as early as Monday.

Game notes
Oswalt started the Astros' last no-hitter, against the New
York Yankees on June 11, 2003. He left in the second inning with a
strained right groin and relievers Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos,
Lidge, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner finished the 8-0 victory, the
10th no-hitter in Astros' history. ... Taveras leads the Astros
with 29 stolen bases.