PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates, playing the final home game of a record-tying 16th consecutive losing season, only wish they could have a September or October to rival Roy Oswalt's.
Oswalt held the Pirates to one run over six innings to continue his strong second half and backup catcher Brad Ausmus drove in two runs to lead the Houston Astros beat Pittsburgh 6-2 on Sunday.Miguel Tejada had three hits and an RBI as the Astros took two of three for their first series win since Hurricane Ike forced two key games against the Cubs to be hastily moved to Milwaukee. The Astros lost six of seven after that and are four games down in the NL wild card race with at least six to play -- they'll play a seventh game, a makeup against Chicago on Sept. 29, only if they remain in contention."We'll play one day at a time and hope we get some help," Ausmus said before the Astros went home for series against the Reds and Braves.The Pirates finished 39-42 at PNC Park, the seventh time in eight seasons they didn't have a winning record there. Despite their 64-91 overall record with six to play, first-year manager John Russell sees progress from a mostly young team that is 14-33 since top offensive players Jason Bay and Xavier Nady were traded the final week of July."Win or lose, you know our guys are going to still give the effort and give us something to look forward to next season," he said.Oswalt (16-10) couldn't match his three-hit shutout against the Pirates on Sept. 11, but won his 10th in 12 games, striking out four and walking none. He has lost only twice since the All-Star break and his 27-8 (.771) record in September and October is the second-best in the majors since 1900, based on a minimum of 25 decisions, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.And not many pitchers can say they passed Babe Ruth, but Oswalt did that -- that late-season winning percentage now is .002 better than Ruth, who was 20-6 (.769) before becoming an outfielder. Sam Leever (43-12) had a .782 winning percentage from 1900-10 for Pittsburgh."I didn't feel great at all. I told a few guys when I came in that if I get through the fifth I'll be lucky," Oswalt said. "I didn't have nothing in the bullpen or the first two innings."Oswalt was lifted after throwing 79 pitches because he expects to start on three days' rest Thursday against Cincinnati. He also has a slightly stiff neck, though he said it wasn't much of a concern."I didn't see why I should throw 100-some pitches and try to come back on three days' rest," Oswalt said. "It was time to get out."Oswalt -- 13-6 in his career against Pittsburgh -- gave up two hits in the first three innings, but faced the minimum nine batters because of two double plays. He ran his streak of consecutive innings facing the minimum number of Pirates batters to 12, as all three batters who got hits Sept. 11 were erased by double plays.That streak ended in the fourth, and the Pirates finally got to Oswalt in the fifth on rookie Luis Cruz's two-out RBI double.The Astros led 4-0 before then on Lance Berkman's RBI double and Geoff Blum's sacrifice fly in a two-run third against Ross Ohlendorf (0-3). Tejada singled and Blum doubled in the fifth ahead of Ausmus' two-run single. Ausmus, a .216 hitter, hit .400 against the Pirates and had five of his 22 RBIs against them."Brad's base hit let us breathe a little bit," said manager Cecil Cooper, whose team left 13 on base a day after stranding 10 in a 6-4 loss. "I thought we were going to be scratching to try to get some more. If he doesn't get a hit there, we're struggling to score runs."Geoff Geary and LaTroy Hawkins each pitched a scoreless relief inning before the Pirates scored once in the ninth against Wesley Wright.
The Pirates' coaches are under contract for 2009, but GM Neal Huntington wouldn't say if Russell's entire staff would return. ... Pirates SS Jack Wilson singled as a pinch-hitter in the fifth, possibly his last home at-bat as he could be traded. He received a standing ovation. ... The Pirates' home attendance of 1,609,076 in 80 dates was their second lowest since PNC Park opened in 2001 and represented a drop of 140,066 from last season; the lowest was 1,583,031 in 2004. They averaged 20,113. ... Houston won six of the final seven against Pittsburgh to split the season series at 8-8. ... Pirates 1B Adam LaRoche left in the eighth with a sore left hamstring. ... No franchise in the four major pro team sports has had 17 consecutive losing seasons.