MINNEAPOLIS -- With more wins than any other pitcher in baseball since his career began with the Astros eight years ago, Roy Oswalt has endured a rough start to this season.
Just as he was on the verge of a June breakthrough, after picking up only one victory over his first 11 starts, Oswalt ran into a Twins team that was determined to be a pest.Kevin Slowey became the second 10-game winner in the majors, and Minnesota went back to small ball Friday to beat Oswalt and Houston 5-2."He's tough, but we were able to wear him out and score a few runs -- and the pitching did the rest," said Michael Cuddyer, who grounded an RBI double down the line in the sixth.Slowey (10-2) didn't have his usual control, walking Michael Bourn and Lance Berkman twice each to match his career high, but he scattered three singles and surrendered only Bourn's sacrifice fly in the third.Jeff Keppinger's two-out home run in the eighth against Jose Mijares prompted manager Ron Gardenhire to summon Joe Nathan for a rare four-out save, but he didn't allow a baserunner and the Twins moved above .500 for the first time since May 14."It's nice and it certainly comes after my name, but the fact that I have 10 wins I think means a whole lot more because we have 10 more wins as a team," said Slowey, who threw 90 pitches over six innings and was pulled after feeling tightness around his rib cage.The last time the Astros played here was 2001, when Oswalt (3-4) was a rookie.In finishing his first complete game of the season, and the 16th of his career, the slender, quick-firing right-hander gave up 10 hits, five runs and four walks while striking out three. He threw 126 pitches, after five days of rest while he fights some tendinitis in his wrist."It was as gritty a performance as he's had in a long time. I am really proud of him," Berkman said, adding: "He threw the ball great. I'm just upset, sad for him, because I know he's trying to get something going and he's been pitching well."The Twins have enjoyed a power surge this season, but the effect of their extra home runs has been limited due to the decreased production of their contact hitters at the bottom of the order. Poor bunting, and a reluctance to try, has been a particular problem that Gardenhire has been trying to address.His wish was granted on this night.Delmon Young came home on a squeeze play, thanks to a perfect bunt by Nick Punto that put the Twins up 2-1 in the fifth. Carlos Gomez, who also bunted for a hit in the seventh, sacrificed to get Young to third. Their first run scored on Justin Morneau's sacrifice fly, and all of their rallies were fueled by singles and walks."Nicky knows how the play the game the right way," said Young, who scored standing up on the squeeze. "I had confidence once the play was called that Nicky was going to get the bunt down."Young, who doubled twice but still has only five extra-base hits in 159 at-bats, drove in two runs in the eighth with a two-out line drive that Jason Michaels lost in the lights in left field, staggering back as the ball zipped over his head."Still a loss. Got to win games," Oswalt said, adding: "I'm starting to feel a little bit better on the mound. Hopefully I can carry it over to the next start."
LaTroy Hawkins, who capably filled the closer role for Houston while Jose Valverde was hurt, still keeps in touch with a loyal group of Twins fans he met during his days in Minnesota from 1995-2003. They created a club in his honor, in appreciation of the time he was the only player who stopped to sign autographs outside the Metrodome after one game in 1999. They still visit him annually at spring training and maintain a Web site, latroyhawkinsfanclub.org. "They're like family," Hawkins said. ... Twins OF Denard Span is feeling better, shagging flies and taking swings, but Gardenhire said he'd like him to go on a brief rehab assignment before being activated from the DL. He'll be eligible on June 26. ... Injured Astros starters Mike Hampton and Felipe Paulino, both on the DL with groin injuries, are scheduled to throw in the bullpen this weekend. Manager Cecil Cooper said they're making progress.