CHICAGO -- Roy Oswalt is pitching like an ace again and the Houston Astros are on a roll headed into the final month of the season.
Oswalt allowed four singles -- all the Chicago Cubs seem to able to hit these days -- and came within two outs of a shutout as the Astros won their sixth straight with a 3-0 victory Monday at Wrigley Field.
• After pitching eight innings in a start just once all season, Roy Oswalt has now gone at least eight innings in three of his last four outings.
• Monday's loss marked the first time this season that the Cubs have lost three in a row at home.
• The last time the Cubs were shut out was a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh on August 1.
-- ESPN research
"I didn't do anything different from the beginning of the year. I'm just having better results," said Oswalt (13-9), who's won seven of his last eight decisions after an 0-3 start this season.Oswalt ignored a torn finger nail to shut down the Cubs, who have struggled to score during a three-game losing streak. They hadn't dropped three straight at home since August of last year."I kind of tore the finger nail off the side," Oswalt said. "I could feel it when I threw breaking pitches more than anything. It wasn't something to come out over, it just started splitting a little worse."Chicago's last 27 hits are all singles, and the Cubs haven't had extra base hit since Alfonso Soriano homered in the seventh inning of Friday's game against the Phillies."There is still a long way to go. We're not relaxing or anything. We just haven't scored for a few days here," said Chicago's Derrek Lee. "It's happened to us a couple of times before and we'll turn it around."The Cubs remained 4 1/2 game ahead of the Brewers in the NL Central after Milwaukee lost 4-2 to the Mets."We didn't do much today. I'll tell you that," Chicago manager Lou Piniella said, hinting he might make some changes to his lineup.Oswalt was mainly responsible for the Cubs' woes.He took a two-hit shutout into the ninth. But pinch-hitter Daryle Ward and Soriano hit back-to-back singles with one out before Jose Valverde was summoned from the bullpen.Valverde got his 38th save in 44 chances when Kosuke Fukudome hit into a forceout and Lee flied out to the right field warning track to end the game.Manager Cecil Cooper wanted Oswalt to finish but saw enough after the two hits."When we got to the ninth, I said, 'I'm going to give him a chance to close it out.' When they got a couple guys on, I didn't want to leave him in past that. I thought he did a good job at that point and decided to go to the big boy," Cooper said.Miguel Tejada tripled to start the fourth against Jason Marquis (9-8) when he hit a line drive off the ivy-covered left-field wall and Soriano couldn't retrieve the ball before it rolled toward the infield and into the bullpen. Lance Berkman walked and Geoff Blum hit a liner to center for a sacrifice fly with Berkman alertly taking second on the throw. Berkman then stole third and scored on Hunter Pence's RBI single for a 2-0 lead."I was thinking two. When I put my head up at second base, I saw the ball kept going and I just took my chance and took third," Tejada said. "You never see something like that, especially here when you have the ivy on the wall."Soriano was also surprised by the carom in what became a key play."I've seen that a couple of times in practice, but never in the game," he said.The Tejada/Berkman combination struck again in the seventh when Tejada singled and went to third on Berkman's single. Tejada scored on rookie Jeff Samardzija's wild pitch and Berkman made it all the way to third on an error by Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, who threw wildly past Samardzija as he covered the plate.But the rally fizzled when Hunter Pence walked and was thrown out trying to steal.Marquis went six innings and allowed five hits and two runs with a season-high eight strikeouts.
The Astros lead the season series 7-6. ... Houston has the fewest errors in the majors this season (58). ... Carlos Zambrano, scratched from his Sunday start to get extra rest for a tired arm, will pitch Tuesday night against Houston's Brandon Backe. ... Houston 2B Kaz Matsui, on the 15-day disabled list since August 13 with an irritated disk in his back, went through pregame drills. Cooper is optimistic Matsui can return in the next few days. ... Battling the sun, Astros right fielder Pence made a great sliding catch of Mark DeRosa's sinking liner in the eighth.