10/16/10 5:53 PM ET
Oswalt faces pressure of pulling Phils even
Tabbed for Game 2, former Astros ace keeps focus on mound
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
There's his restaurant in Weir, Miss., not quite a year old, to tend to. Oswalt opened Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse last November so folks in and around his hometown wouldn't have to drive 40 minutes for a nice meal.
And there's still some rebuilding to do around Weir, where an April tornado leveled his boyhood home. Oswalt's mother, Jean, cowered in a closet while the storm ripped away most of her house. Cars were lifted and scattered into the woods, but the most precious losses were much smaller. They included Oswalt's MVP trophy from the 2005 NLCS, smashed to pieces.
But those duties will have to wait, because Oswalt is chasing another pennant. After the Philllies lost, 4-3, to the Giants in Game 1 on Saturday, he's been thrust into the role of trying to even the NLCS on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, FOX).
"It seemed like it's been a funny year, I guess you'd say, as far as different things happening," said Oswalt, whose busy 2010 also included a trade from the Astros. "But when you get out on the baseball field, you try to put everything aside and just play the game. That's kind of home away from home, when you're out on the mound."
The mound has been an oasis of sorts for Oswalt during a strange 2010. He began the year as the unquestioned ace in Houston, where he was drafted in 1996 and developed into a 20-game winner during nine steady seasons with the Astros.
- 2010 Regular Season
- Overall: 32 GS, 13-13, 2.76 ERA, 55 BB, 193 Ks
- Overall: 33 GS, 13-9, 3.07 ERA, 96 BB, 205 Ks
- Key stat: League-leading 1.025 WHIP
- Key stat: 8-4, 2.27 ERA in past 12 starts
- 2010: 1 GS, 0-0, 5.40 ERA
Career: 8 GS, 4-0, 3.83 ERA
- 2010: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.23 ERA
Career: 1 GS, 0-0, 1.23 ERA
- At CITIZENS BANK PARK
- 2010: 6 GS, 5-0, 1.76 ERA Career: 10 GS, 9-0, 2.10 ERA
- 2010: 1 GS, 1-0, 1.13 ERA Career: 2 GS, 1-1, 1.29 ERA
- Against this opponent
- 2010: 4 GS, 1-3, 3.33 ERA Career: 17 GS, 6-8, 3.61 ERA
- 2010: 2 GS, 2-0 1.38 ERA Career: 9 G, 5 GS, 2-1, 2.86 ERA
- Loves to face: Pat Burrell (4-for-18)
Hates to face: Freddy Sanchez (11-for-36)
- Loves to face: Jimmy Rollins (1-for-16)
Hates to face: Shane Victorino (6-for-15)
- Game breakdown
- Why he'll win: Unbeaten in Philly and hungry to get back to Fall Classic
- Why he'll win: Dominant lefty has silenced potent Phillies bats in the past
- Pitcher beware: Struggled in NLDS outing
- Pitcher beware: Up-and-down lefty has been known to let emotions get the best of him
- Bottom line: Savvy veteran
- Bottom line: Coming of age?
Year 10 was anything but steady, beginning with the late-April storm back home. In May, Oswalt brought up the idea of a trade away from the rebuilding Astros. In late July, he approved a deal to the Phillies, and was swapped for left-hander J.A. Happ and a pair of Minor Leaguers.
After a shaky debut -- he surrendered five earned runs in a July 30 loss to the Nationals -- Oswalt settled in. The veteran righty went 7-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 12 starts and one relief stint, and he surrendered fewer walks and hits (69) than he pitched innings (82 2/3).
In other words, he fit right in alongside Phillies aces Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels.
"I felt really welcome, and I can't really explain it," Oswalt said. "[Halladay and Hamels], on days they start, they're all business. But on days they don't start, we get to lean on each other and kid a little bit.
"It's hard to get Doc to smile, though. I'm still able to get him to smile here and there, but I need to come up with some pretty good stuff to do it. It's been a lot of fun."
Winning sure has helped. The Phillies went 41-17 over the final two months of the regular season and then swept the Reds in the NL Division Series despite what qualified as a disappointing Game 2 start by Oswalt. He surrendered four runs, three earned, and lasted only five innings. He admitted afterward he was "rusty."
That could be the challenge again on Sunday, when Oswalt will have waited eight days between starts. To stay sharp, he threw a simulated game on Thursday and played catch again on Saturday before Game 1.
Hamels is guessing Oswalt will be ready.
"He's an ultimate competitor, but at the same time, he knows how to be relaxed," Hamels said. "He was a great fit in our clubhouse because he has that demeanor of wanting to go out and win every game, and then when he's not playing, he can be fun."
On the mound, it's a different story.
"When he's on the mound, he wants to win," Hamels said. "You trust when you go out there that he's going to give everything he has."
Perhaps Oswalt fit in so well because the Phillies bear some resemblances to Oswalt's 2005 Astros. Both got off to poor starts -- Houston was 15 games under .500 on May 27, 2005, and Philadelphia was seven games out of first place in the NL East as late as July 22. And both clubs featured a trio of aces, two right-handed and one lefty -- Roger Clemens, Oswalt and Andy Pettitte in '05, and Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels this year.
Oswalt appreciates the company.
"It helps out a lot," Oswalt said. "Because I mean, you feel sometimes when you're 'slotted' the ace, you feel like have you to win every game. You feel like you go out there, if you lose the game, you let your team down for another four games until you get out there. With these guys pitching, you feel if you lose the game, you're disappointed no doubt, but you feel like the next two games you're going to win."
Whether the Phillies win it all remains to be seen. But at some point, Oswalt will head into his busy offseason in Mississippi. Among his chores is finding a spot for his 2005 NLCS MVP Award. The Astros and Major League Baseball were kind enough to replace it.
"You kind of treat both lives different," Oswalt said. "You have a baseball life and then an offseason life. It's almost like two different worlds. Right now, I'm pretty focused on baseball."