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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Astros turn to the right guy to give fading hopes a jolt
With some credit to an incident involving a spark plug, Roy Oswalt has become a top clutch pitcher.
By MARC TOPKIN
Published October 25, 2005
HOUSTON - If they had to be down two games to none in their first World Series, the Astros are at least comforted by having Roy Oswalt on the mound tonight.
"You can't have a better scenario," Houston closer Brad Lidge said Monday. "Oswalt at home in a big spot."
Oswalt over the past five years has been one of the best pitchers in the majors, going 83-39 overall and winning 20 each of the past two seasons. He has been the most dominant pitcher on a strong Astros staff this postseason, going 3-0 with a 2.11 ERA, including a huge performance in last week's pennant-clincher over the Cardinals. He has electric stuff, a commanding presence, gutsy determination and a total lack of fear.
"He's an old-fashioned hardball pitcher," former teammate and current opponent Geoff Blum said. "He's just got this intensity and attitude on the mound. He just pitches aggressively. He doesn't care who is up there or what's going on."
If the Astros are going to take the charge out of the White Sox, it would be no shock to see Oswalt do it.
Especially as a shock may be what made the 28-year-old right-hander the pitcher he is.
Oswalt didn't know what was wrong with his shoulder after he finished 1999 13-4 at Class A. He just knew it wasn't right.
The pain was so bad he was taking a half-dozen Advil to sleep. He couldn't do anything about the worry he would need surgery that could jeopardize his career.
One day he was puttering around trying to fix a misfiring engine on his beat-up 1985 Ford pickup. He ended up with the shock of a lifetime.
"I grew up around some guys who built motors and raced cars, so I kind of knew what was going on," Oswalt said. "I figured there was a spark plug wire on the manifold that had maybe melted and got down to the metal. ...
"I picked up the one that was burnt and grabbed the straight metal, and every time the motor would turn it would shoot volts through me. I don't know how many, but it was a lot. It contracted my hand, and I couldn't get my hand back out. So the only thing I could do was jerk it out of the motor. And when I jerked it out I kind of hit the ground. I got up, and I noticed my arm feels a lot better.
"I was standing there thinking there was no way that just happened. So anyway, I got a new spark plug, my truck started running better and I didn't think nothing else about it. That night I went to sleep, and the next morning it felt great."
He felt great all winter and when he got to spring training excitedly told the trainers what happened, figuring maybe the voltage knocked loose some scar tissue or something. They laughed. Six years later, former and current teammates still get a chuckle.
"Maybe he invented a new treatment," Blum said. "Plug yourself into your car battery and win 20 games. It's radical therapy."
Oswalt is a rare breed, a great guy and an exceptional player, and players on all sides rave about both attributes.
He has the good nature to laugh at himself, and the ability to make hitters look like a joke, especially when he mixes his 95 mph fastball with his 65 mph curve.
"He's going to be a Hall of Fame pitcher if he stays healthy," Chicago's Jermaine Dye said.
Oswalt comes from Weir, Miss., population 550, but has overcome the considerable skepticism that came with being a 23rd-round draft pick to become a big deal with the Astros.
His MVP-winning performance in the NL Championship Series lead to an appearance on David Letterman's show, where he delivered the "Top 10 Perks of Getting Into the World Series." The Houston Chronicle, in a story headlined "The Big O," recently dubbed him the "sexiest man alive." Others call him "Roy Wonder."
The Astros are just happy to call him their own.
Especially tonight, when they again will rely on him in what is essentially the biggest game in franchise history.
"We have tremendous confidence in him, and the nice thing about Roy is that he's got that confidence, too," general manager Tim Purpura said. "He wants to be the guy out there."