HOUSTON -- Winners of their last three games while scoring 28 runs, the Reds' sputtering offensive machine finally seemed to be purring like a kitten. That was until Wednesday, when Astros pitcher -- and dreaded Reds killer -- Roy Oswalt started dealing Cincinnati some nasty 93-mph hairballs. In a 3-1 Reds loss to Houston at Minute Maid Park, Oswalt gave his club eight innings and Cincinnati all it could handle. The right-hander improved his career record against the Reds to 18-1 with a 2.46 ERA.
"There's just something about him," Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. said of Oswalt. Lacking command of his fastball, Reds starter Kyle Lohse did the last thing he could afford to do during the first inning by giving Oswalt an early lead. Within just four pitches to three batters, Lohse gave up three hits and two runs to fall behind, 2-0. Craig Biggio smoked a double to left field and scored on Hunter Pence's RBI triple through the gap in right-center field. Pence scored when Lance Berkman sharply lined an RBI single to left field. "You don't want to put your team in a hole early in the game like that," Lohse said. "It was a struggle to get back into the game. That hurt. The way [Oswalt] was throwing the ball, it seemed like one run would have been enough." Lohse (1-2) hung in there and gave the Reds a quality start with three runs allowed over six innings. He gave up eight hits and three walks and struck out four. The right-hander had runners in scoring position in every inning except the fifth. Only one more Astros run scored. In the sixth, Brad Ausmus came in from second on Biggio's RBI hit to left field. "I'll tell you what -- he did a great job of battling through that ballgame and giving us a chance to win," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "Obviously, their game plan was to come out and attack what I've been doing," said Lohse, who has lost two straight games. "I tried to get ahead. They weren't quality pitches. That was the problem. If I'm making pitches down in the zone a little better and they do that, a couple of them might be outs. I was just up all over the place with my fastball the whole time. It was a battle every inning just not to give in and make pitches when I had to." Meanwhile, Oswalt (4-2) worked with precision. Of his 95 pitches, 74 were strikes. There were only five balls thrown among his first 38 pitches. "He threw what, 19 balls? I think I took six of them," said Griffey, the one man who drew a walk in the fourth inning. "That's what you call pounding the strike zone." Oswalt held Cincinnati hitless through the first four innings. Adam Dunn's leadoff home run to left field in the fifth inning marked both the Reds' first hit and only run. The Astros right-hander allowed four hits and one walk with two strikeouts -- and made a two-run advantage seem like an Everest-like climb for his opponents. "I really love him as a fan," Reds first baseman Scott Hatteberg said. "He throws 92-93 [mph] but it feels harder than that. It seems to get on you more than that. He comes at you and just pounds the strike zone. He's got good pitches but he's really aggressive. "He's got that mentality. He's coming right at you. The next thing you know, you're 0-2, 1-2, whatever. He's got pitches to put you away." The last 10 Reds went down in order, seven by Oswalt. The final three outs came via Astros closer Dan Wheeler, who notched the save in the ninth. "You feel like you have a chance. We just couldn't get any baserunners," Narron said. "Oswalt is pretty good." Cincinnati is 4-4 on its nine-game road trip and will have a winning road trip and three-game series on the line in Thursday's finale vs. Houston. The Reds will have to hope Wednesday's loss wasn't just an appetizer for Oswalt. They will likely get to face him again Monday when the two teams open a four-game series at Great American Ball Park. "It'll be a lot of fun then too," Narron said wryly. "We'll get after it."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.