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Astros unable to back Oswalt's effort

Astros unable to back Oswalt's effort

HOUSTON -- Astros manager Brad Mills made it a point to stop by the locker of each player in the clubhouse following another disheartening loss -- the club's sixth consecutive to start the season -- and delivered a simple message.

"I went up to every guy and told him to keep battling," Mills said.

Mills, who's still waiting for his first win as a Major League manager, even got a pep talk himself after Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Phillies at Minute Maid Park when former President George H. W. Bush greeted him at the clubhouse doors and offered words of encouragement.

Inside those doors, frustration oozed. Astros starting pitcher Roy Oswalt didn't want to address the media after holding the hot-hitting Phillies to five hits and two runs and striking out eight in six innings, and the big-screen television was off as players quietly packed their bags for the season's first road trip.

The Astros are 0-6 for the first time since 1983, getting swept in three games at home by the Giants and the Phillies, who polished off their sweep by getting a complete game from ace Roy Halladay in his first career appearance against Houston.

"I'm very surprised," Mills said. "We've got a good ballclub out there. I know that you might not think that looking at the record, but they keep battling and go about their business. I think there's been a lot of games we've been in, and a base hit here and there, a call here and there, and it's a completely different story. But we've played some good ballclubs."

Houston certainly had its chances against Halladay, who allowed seven hits and one run and struck out eight batters. It had the bases loaded with no outs in the sixth and managed a run on a double play, and had runners at first and second with no outs in the seventh and couldn't score. The Astros were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

"It was an ideal game with ace going against an ace," center fielder Michael Bourn said. "They got a couple of runs against Roy, but we had a couple of opportunities to blow it open against Halladay and we didn't get to do it.

"I think Roy [Oswalt] was the one that keeps the puzzle together for us. Any time you hold that lineup to two runs [and five] hits, that's an excellent day. They're the best hitting team in the National League lineup-wise and have the best lineup in the National League, and he was able to make them stand still for a long time, and we weren't able to scrap but one run across."

"I'm very surprised. We've got a good ballclub out there. I know that you might not think that looking at the record, but they keep battling and go about their business. I think there's been a lot of games we've been in, and a base hit here and there, a call here and there, and it's a completely different story. But we've played some good ballclubs."
-- Brad Mills, on 0-6 start

The Phillies were held to six hits, breaking their streak of 10-plus hits in each game to start the season. Oswalt gave up a home run to Jimmy Rollins on the second pitch of the game and gave up another run in the second before shutting down the two-time defending NL champs.

Oswalt (0-2) has two quality starts, but has been beaten by Tim Lincecum and Halladay in games in which the Astros scored three runs total.

"[If] Roy throws up those two runs [Saturday], we're in great shape and get our first win of the season," first baseman Geoff Blum said. "It's not going our way right now, and we need to get those clutch hits because the pitchers are doing a great job."

Blum didn't hesitate when asked if the team was pressing.

"We have high expectations of ourselves, even if nobody else does," he said. "We want to put on a good show for the fans. We don't want to go 0-6 and leave a bad taste in their mouths for the next week, so we're pressing a little bit."

Through six games, the Astros are batting .222 as a team with two homers and 12 RBIs. They've been outscored, 37-13, and outhit, 70-46, while playing without injured slugger Lance Berkman, who won't return until April 20 at the earliest after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery.

With Berkman out, no one is stepping up in the middle of the lineup. Carlos Lee is hitting .130 with no homers or RBIs, and Blum (.176), Hunter Pence (.095) and Kaz Matsui (.200) are struggling.

"We got our teammates' backs," Bourn said. "Lance will be back and Carlos will get going. We have faith in those kinds of guys. They've proven it over and over again through the years, so we'll be behind them and we just hopefully will try to win a few on the road and get us going."

Houston loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth for left-hander Cory Sullivan, who was making his first career start in the No. 3 hole. He laced a foul ball just outside the first-base bag before hitting into a 6-3 double play to score a run, cutting the lead to 2-1. Lee popped out to end the inning.

"A couple of inches here or there, the one I fouled off down the line was pretty close, but that's why he's Roy Halladay," Sullivan said. "He knows how to pitch out of situations like that."

Blum and Pedro Feliz singled to start the seventh, but Halladay escaped again. After a Matsui sac bunt, J.R. Towles ripped a shot back to the mound that was fielded by Halladay and thrown to first for an out, and pinch-hitter Jason Michaels struck out.

At that point, Halladay could smell his 50th career complete game and retired the side in order in the eighth and ninth innings for career win No. 150.

"The closer you get, the more fun it is, really," Halladay said. "You'd like to have it a little easier than the sixth and seventh, but once you get out of that trouble and you know you're getting close, that's when you want to be out there. It's fun to make pitches in those situations."

Brian McTaggart 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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