Reds 5, Astros 4

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CINCINNATI (AP) – On their 20th try, the Cincinnati Reds finally beat Roy Oswalt.

Brandon Phillips doubled, singled and scored twice off the pitcher who had the Reds’ number until Friday night, then added a bases-loaded single off the bullpen for a 5-4 victory over the Houston Astros.

With their eighth victory in nine games, the Reds moved into first place in the NL Central, a half-game ahead of the Astros. Cincinnati (16-7) also matched its club record for most victories in April, with two chances left to top it.

This one will be remembered for who lost.

Oswalt was the only pitcher in major league history to go 15-0 against a team, an unblemished stretch that included 17 starts and two relief appearances scattered over three ballparks – two in Cincinnati, one in Houston.

What’s more, Oswalt had won his last seven starts against the Reds, who knew they’d need a few breaks to finally beat him.

They got them.

Oswalt (4-1) gave up runs on an opposite-field single, an infield single and a sacrifice fly in six innings, and got topped by a starter coming off the worst performance of his career. Left-hander Brandon Claussen (2-2) gave up a career-high nine runs – including four homers in one inning – in an 11-0 loss in Milwaukee on Saturday.

This time, Claussen gave up two runs in 5 1-3 innings, including Preston Wilson’s solo homer, to give the Reds a chance. David Weathers gave up a two-run homer in the ninth to Lance Berkman before finishing it for his seventh save in eight chances.

Phillips, the NL’s most recent player of the week, was again the catalyst, going 3-for-4 in the breakthrough win. He scored the first two runs off Oswalt, and his two-run single on an 0-2 pitch from Chad Qualls made it 5-2 in the seventh inning.

Cincinnati pressed on without Ken Griffey Jr., who was eligible to come off the 15-day disabled list Friday. Griffey, bothered by an inflamed tendon behind his right knee, hasn’t fully recovered from the nagging injury.

Not that he would have been much help against Oswalt – he’s only 4-for-25 in his career without a homer off the right-hander.

Instead, a player who had never faced Oswalt led the Reds to victory over their biggest nemesis. Phillips doubled to left and came around on Jason LaRue’s soft, opposite-field single for a 1-0 lead in the second inning – Claussen’s first career lead when facing the Astros. In all of his three previous starts against Houston, the Reds were shut out.

Claussen doubled his good fortune by driving in Phillips with an infield single in the fourth, his first RBI since June 28, 2003. Austin Kearns added a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Notes: Astros SS Adam Everett was out of the lineup for the second straight game with a bruised left hand. Manager Phil Garner expects him back Saturday. … Reds RHP Paul Wilson felt fine Friday, a day after his first rehabilitation start. He threw 92 pitches for Class A Dayton on Thursday. Wilson, who had shoulder surgery last June 17, might be ready to rejoin the Reds in May. … OF Cody Ross made his first appearance for the Reds as a pinch hitter and struck out swinging at a pitch that hit him on the left hand. X-rays found no fracture. … The crowd of 32,089 fans included 9,756 who bought tickets at the gate before the game, a sign of growing interest in the Reds.

AP-ES-04-28-06 2232EDT

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