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Oswalt ready for crucial start
10/16/2004 4:05 PM ET
HOUSTON -- Roger Clemens did his part. Now it is Roy Oswalt's turn.

Clemens pitched the Astros to a win in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series and the team will now turn to Oswalt, its 20-game winner, for Game 4 on Sunday afternoon.

The goal? Even the best-of-seven series with the Cardinals at two games apiece.

"I think every single one of us expected this," Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell said after Saturday's 5-2 win. "We felt like we still had a great chance with our two guys going Saturday and Sunday.

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"We took care of half of it, now we have to finish it off. We'll have Roy out there and try to even the series up, then have a battle for three games."

When Oswalt takes the mound on Sunday, odds are he will not be thinking of the nagging pain in his rib cage.

He will not be thinking about the fact he has logged 273 innings since the start of Spring Training.

And he will certainly not be thinking about the coach who once told Oswalt, a small-town Mississippi kid, that he couldn't compete with the big boys.

Oswalt will be focused on the Cardinals. Just like his previous two starts this postseason, Game 4 of the National League Championship Series is the biggest game of his life.

"This is something that you want to do growing up, for sure," Oswalt said. "[You want to have] a team depend on you to go out there and produce when you get out there."

Oswalt has produced so far. After winning 12 of his last 14 decisions in the regular season to become the NL's only 20-game winner, he held the Braves to three earned runs in two NLDS starts and was the winning pitcher in the decisive Game 5 in Atlanta on Monday.

   Roy Oswalt  /   P
Born: 08/29/77
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R

That Game 5 start came on three days' rest. The way Astros manager Phil Garner set up his NLCS rotation, Oswalt will be pitching Sunday on five days' rest -- one more than usual.

But rest between starts doesn't matter much when the stakes are this high.

"This time of year, you go a lot on adrenaline," Oswalt said. "That's the way I was brought up. Go right at them, make them hit the ball."

About that rib cage...

Oswalt has received pain-killing and anti-inflammatory injections throughout the season to relieve a strained muscle on the left side of his rib cage. He received at least three cortisone injections during the season and gets a pain-killing injection before each start so he can get through it.

"It works for him very well during the game," Garner said. "It's something we've tried to manage that way. It's not anything that he's going to hurt any more by doing that, as we've discussed all that with the doctors. I don't think it's a factor for him once you get going in the game.

"He has good days and bad days. He'll have some days in between starts, a lot of times when he throws a bullpen, and he doesn't feel it at all. Of course, when you start to ramp up a little bit for the game, that's when you tune things up, push a little harder, so you notice it a little bit more there. It really hasn't been a factor."

Oswalt said he feels fine when throwing his 94-96 mph fastball, but that he experiences discomfort when coming across his body to throw sliders or that wicked 68 mph curveball.

He says he had that curveball in high school, but it did not garner him much of a big-league look. The Astros originally drafted Oswalt in 1996, in the 23rd round, and he attended junior college before signing as a "draft and follow" pick.

"I actually had a coach that coached at a 5A school who said at an All-Star Game that I couldn't compete at their level," said Oswalt, who attended tiny Weir High School.

"It made me drive harder," Oswalt said. "Going into [junior] college, it made me work harder. Sometimes I think guys get looked over because of the competition they're facing, but it doesn't mean they can't compete at a high level."

It doesn't get much higher than this.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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