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Cueto's strong start goes for naught

Cueto's strong start goes for naught

CINCINNATI -- The Reds' winning against Astros ace Roy Oswalt has become as rare as Halley's Comet or seeing actor Joaquin Phoenix lucid on a TV talk show.

"We've got to get him. It's as simple as that," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Oswalt before his club faced the Astros on Monday night.

Only it wasn't. For the second time in 10 days, the Reds faced Oswalt and prevented him from getting a winning decision. But unlike the last game in Houston --- a ninth-inning win for the Reds -- this was a ninth-inning loss by a 4-1 score.

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"We played a good game tonight," Baker said. "We just didn't get that hit off of Roy when we needed it."

The Reds have lost three of their past four after returning home from a 7-3 road trip. A crowd of 12,365 was the lowest this season at Great American Ball Park after a weekend of attendance in the 30,000 range.

Rendered moot was a pair of quality seven-inning starts from Oswalt and Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto. Both were gone in the top of the ninth, when the Astros scored three runs off closer Francisco Cordero to break a 1-1 tie.

The rally started when Carlos Lee blooped a single to right field. Cordero (0-1) lost the game when he didn't execute two-strike pitches to Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence. Tejada hit a single to left field and two runs crossed when Pence lifted a double off the right-field wall. Jay Bruce misplayed the carom for an error, and Pence later scored on Geoff Blum's sacrifice fly.

"You're going to have days like that. The thing I'm not happy about is because of the way Cueto pitched," Cordero said. "He gave our team a chance to win a ballgame. That's why I'm a little upset with myself. I should have made better decisions and better pitches. Cueto was unbelievable."

Coming off a seven-scoreless-inning start vs. the Cubs on Wednesday, Cueto gave up one earned run over his seven frames vs. Houston. He allowed seven hits and just one walk with five strikeouts.

Like last week when he walked none, Cueto demonstrated good command and was aggressive. He threw a total of 98 pitches.

"Johnny threw the ball great," Baker said.

The only mistake by Cueto came in the sixth, when a 1-0 changeup to Lance Berkman was taken deep to left field for a leadoff home run and a 1-0 Astros lead.

"It was a well-pitched game by both sides," Bruce said. "Cueto threw as well as he could. It was literally, one pitch. When you give up one run, more times than not, you're going to win the game."

The last time the Reds faced Oswalt, he was nasty and kept them down. Cueto also pitched in that one, but exited after 4 2/3 innings. Ramon Hernandez's homer in the ninth won that game, 2-1. Oswalt did not figure in that decision, either.

The first seven Reds on Monday were retired in order by Oswalt, but there were chances. Oswalt benefited from inducing three double plays on the ground, including one by Brandon Phillips with two on and one out in the fourth.

Cincinnati finally broke through against Oswalt in the bottom of the sixth with a two-out rally. After Laynce Nix reached on a double, he scored on Joey Votto's RBI single to center field. A Phillips double and an intentional walk to Bruce loaded the bases. On the first pitch he saw, Edwin Encarnacion tapped a spinner in front of home plate and was tagged out.

"The first pitch is usually the best pitch to hit in that situation," Baker said. "An RBI man, most of the time they'll get ahead of you because they don't want to get behind you. He pulled off a little and hit it off the end of the bat."

Oswalt thus escaped defeat again vs. the Reds. Although he is 0-2 in five starts this season, the last time Cincinnati put the right-hander in the loss column was one day short of three years ago, on April 28, 2006. Oswalt is 23-1 vs. the Reds in his career.

"He didn't get the win, but he didn't get the loss either," Baker said. "We had a guy in L.A. in Bobby Welch. He was like [19-4] against San Francisco. It's a psychological thing on his part and probably on ours, too."

Mark Sheldon 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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