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Press row: Oswalt evens the score

Press row: Oswalt evens the score

All hailed Roy Oswalt on Friday, the day he dominated in St. Louis.

The right-hander was in top form at Busch Stadium on Thursday, allowing one run on five hits in seven innings. His performance was lauded on the home front, where the local papers have seen this type of thing before.

"Head held high and eyes fixed straight ahead, the Astros' hard-throwing right-hander marched to the visitors' dugout as the picture of fearlessness," wrote Houston Chronicle beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz, describing Oswalt's pregame demeanor.

The consecutive 20-game winner stayed fearless through his outing, helping his teammates bring the series to Houston tied at one game apiece. For the local press, Oswalt's performance provided hope that the team could go all the way.

"This is the game the Astros hope to play again and again. This is their blueprint victory," wrote Houston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice. "They are about the pitching. At times, they don't have much else. Most times, they don't need much else.

"They've got the best starting rotation in these playoffs. They've got the best closer, too. Their formula isn't complicated."

Oswalt made Houston's offensive woes seem irrelevant with seven brilliant frames, then turned it over to dominating closer Brad Lidge. Roger Clemens or Andy Pettitte could have done the same thing. This just happened to be Oswalt's turn.

While the victory didn't guarantee anything, it helped promote good will throughout Texas for the team that fought hard to get to the postseason, then outlasted the favored Braves.

"Forget everything else that has happened to the Astros this season," wrote Justice. "Forget the guys they lost in free agency and the months it took their kids to become comfortable. Forget the offensive problems and the lineup shuffling. That was then.

"For three months, the Astros quietly believed they were constructed to succeed in October. They weren't always certain they'd get through September, but they felt good about October."

Rightfully so, the Cardinals also feel good about October, after breezing through the season's first six months.

Could things have changed?

"After the Cardinals swiftly disposed of the Astros in Game 1, America's best baseball town came down with a bizarre case of NFL fever," wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. "The Astros were dissed and dismissed as a threat, as if the NL Championship Series were a one-game NFL playoff, with the loser going home.

"Thursday night in Game 2 at Busch Stadium, the Astros and starting pitcher Roy Oswalt made it perfectly clear they're not going anywhere soon, except back to Minute Maid Park ... Oswalt's fastball gas and slow-burning curve over seven innings cooled the Cardinals' momentum, their seven-game winning streak, and possibly their karma."

St. Louis suffered perhaps their biggest blow when hot outfielder Reggie Sanders hurt himself pursuing a eighth-inning triple by Adam Everett.

Said Miklasz: "Call it symbolic. The hottest and mightiest Cardinal of the 2005 postseason departed on wobbly legs with lower-back pain. And with right fielder Larry Walker aching all over and completely ineffective so far this postseason and with Jim Edmonds yet to make an impact as a hitter in the NLCS, the Cardinals can't afford to have their Mr. October become Mr. November -- as in Sanders' Superman streak is over for the month."

And then there's Astros' postseason basher Chris Burke. He sent Atlanta home in Game 4 of the NLDS, homered in Game 1 of the NLCS, then had a triple, single, RBI and two runs scored in Game 2. Miklasz pointed out that prior to the playoffs, Burke had one RBI since Aug. 31.

"Can someone please take me back to the precise moment when Burke became Enos Slaughter?" wrote Miklasz.

Finally, Miklasz took exception to St. Louis' uncharacteristically sloppy play and worried that perhaps the Cardinals played their final game at Busch Stadium. The team is getting a new park for the 2006 season.

"It's wacko to even say it, but the Cardinals could have played their final game at Busch Stadium," he wrote. "Now, I don't really believe for a minute that the Cardinals will lose three consecutive games at Minute Maid, but mathematically it's possible. The Cardinals did get skunked (0-3) in Houston during the 2004 NLCS."

Then again?

"The Cardinals had the NL's best road record (50-31) and won five of eight games in Houston this season," Miklasz added. "The Cardinals remain fearless and formidable, if slightly dented. This is only one loss. This is their first defeat of the postseason. This is not the end of the world ... or the season."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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