Oswalt struck out Xavier Nady with runners on first and second and no outs in the sixth inning, dodged a bases loaded jam and led the Astros to a 6-2 victory over the NL West-leading San Diego Padres on Monday night.
Oswalt and three relievers combined on a five-hitter, and Lance Berkman hit a two-run homer for the Astros, who moved a half-game in front of Philadelphia and Florida in the wild-card race.
The Padres fell to 61-63 but continued to lead the division by four games over Arizona, which lost 4-1 to the New York Mets. This is the latest a team has led a division with a losing record.
Oswalt (15-10) held the Padres to two runs and five hits in six innings to win for the first time in five starts.
"My last three starts, I've been grinding through it, and I was able to keep it low-scoring," Oswalt said.
Holding a 3-2 lead, Oswalt got into trouble in the sixth by allowing a leadoff single to Brian Giles and walking Mark Loretta. Nady had an 11-pitch at-bat, working the count full before fouling off four straight pitches, including one that catcher Brad Ausmus dropped.
Nady then struck out looking at a 62 mph curveball that replays showed was outside.
"What could have been a disaster, he stopped it," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "It didn't look so good, and he battled to get out of the inning."
Said Oswalt: "Three-two, I threw him a few fastballs that he fouled off, then I threw a curveball over that I started high enough that he gave up on it and I was able to drop it in there for a strike."
Padres manager Bruce Bochy disagreed with the call.
"He's got no chance to hit that pitch," Bochy said. "That ball didn't come near to catching any part of the plate. That's a huge call. He had bases loaded with nobody out versus first and second and one out. Definitely changes the game."
Oswalt struck out five and walked three. He improved to 6-1 in his career against San Diego. He also beat the Padres on a five-hitter on July 4, 4-1 at Houston.
Berkman homered to right-center field on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Rudy Seanez with one out in the seventh, his 13th, for a 5-2 lead. Willy Taveras was aboard on a leadoff single. Berkman also hit an RBI double in the ninth, giving him three hits and three RBI.
Berkman also got a wild out at first base to end the eighth. Jackson hit a liner off Berkman's ankle and the ball caromed to second baseman Craig Biggio, who threw it back to Berkman, who was sprawled on the ground but got one hand on the bag to force Jackson.
"His pride's hurt and his ankle is, too," Garner said. "Somebody said that Biggio said that that's the shortest first baseman he's ever thrown to. It could have been worse; the guy could have stepped on his hand."
The Astros had five hits in the fourth inning off Woody Williams (6-10), a Houston native, to take a 3-2 lead. Williams struck out Morgan Ensberg leading off the inning, then allowed four straight hits.
Jason Lane tripled into the gap in right-center and Chris Burke drove him in on a double to left-center. Burke then scored from second on an infield single by Adam Everett, whose grounder glanced off the glove of a diving Nady, the first baseman, and rolled into shallow right. Ausmus singled to center, advanced on Oswalt's bunt that forced Everett at third and scored on Taveras' single.
San Diego had taken a 2-0 lead in the third on consecutive two-out RBI singles by Giles and Loretta.
Williams allowed three runs and nine hits in six innings, struck out five and walked one.
- In a marquee matchup Tuesday night, Roger Clemens will face Padres ace Jake Peavy. Clemens not only leads the majors with a 1.53 ERA, but he has the lowest road ERA as well, 0.37.
- Peavy had the lowest ERA in the majors last season, 2.27.
- During the winter, Peavy and Clemens were on a major league all-star team -- managed by Bochy -- that toured Japan.
- Bochy said RHP Adam Eaton will either pitch for the Padres on Friday night or make one more rehab start for Triple-A Portland. When Eaton comes off the disabled list, Bochy will have to move one starter to the bullpen.