HOUSTON -- Astros manager Phil Garner said when Jeff Bagwell returned after more than four months on the disabled list last week that he didn't want to rush Bagwell into any high-pressured situations while the veteran slugger was just getting his stroke back.
"I lied," Garner said Friday night.
Garner inserted Bagwell as a pinch-hitter with the score tied in the ninth inning, and Bagwell's run-scoring single lifted Houston over the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1.
"Let's just say I felt he was the man to go to," Garner said. "And he came through for us big."
Houston, which won its third straight game, remained a half-game ahead of Philadelphia in the NL wild-card race and moved 1½ games in front of Florida, which lost to the Phillies 11-3.
"You have to be a little nervous in that situation," Bagwell said. "It was a big moment, and it's a win we needed."
Mike Lamb and Lance Berkman led off the ninth by hitting consecutive singles off Dana Eveland (1-1). After Jason Lane struck out and Jose Vizcaino fouled out, Bagwell got a huge ovation from the crowd when he came up to pinch hit for Brad Lidge (4-3).
When he singled to right-center, scoring pinch-runner Willy Taveras, the crowd cheered even more.
"It gave me chills just to see him go out there," Lidge said. "We've all been pulling for him in his comeback, so to see him do that was great for everybody."
It was just Bagwell's third appearance since he returned Sept. 9 after recuperating from shoulder surgery in May.
"The crowd has always been great to me and I'm glad I was able to come through for them," he said.
Oswalt failed to get his 18th victory, allowing one run and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and one walk.
Rick Helling, trying to beat Houston for the second time in six days, gave up one run and four hits in seven innings, also striking out five and walking one.
Helling retired his first 11 batters before Lamb singled to right-center. Jason Lane led off the fifth with his 23rd homer, ending an 18-inning scoreless streak for Helling that included seven innings against Houston last Sunday.
"Those kind of games come down to one big hit," Brewers manager Ned Yost said. "Helling and Oswalt both pitched outstanding, and then Lidge came in and did an awesome job. Dana battled to get two outs and then got a pitch up to Bagwell and that was it. It was a great game."
Lyle Overbay homered leading off the sixth for Milwaukee. He wasn't surprised by Bagwell's heroics.
"That was typical Bagwell," Overbay said. "You're never safe, even if he hasn't seen live pitching for two years or two months. He's going to give you a battle. The crowd got into it, and I think that pumped him up."
- Houston RF Orlando Palmeiro started a sixth-inning double play, catching Bill Hall's fly to right-center on the run and turning and throwing to 2B Craig Biggio, who doubled up Jenkins at first.
- Houston got its 14th last at-bat win.
- Houston LF Luke Scott made his first start since bruising his hip when he ran into the left-field wall on Sept. 10.