HOUSTON -- Roy Oswalt likes his position in the Houston Astros' playoff rotation.
Back home for Game 3 of their National League Division Series and needing a victory to take control, the Astros finally get to their 20-game winner against the Atlanta Braves. Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens started the first two games, which the teams split.
''I like those guys to get all the recognition, myself. I don't like to be the guy that stands out," Oswalt said yesterday, a day before his fourth career playoff start. ''I like kind of sneaking up on guys instead of being out front."
That doesn't mean Oswalt (20-12), the first pitcher since 2001-02 with consecutive 20-win seasons, isn't a big-game pitcher. The righthander from Weir, Miss., a town of about 600 people, just isn't enamored with the spotlight off the mound.
''I think Rocket and Andy really like being on the big stage. They sort of feed off that a little bit," manager Phil Garner said. ''Roy doesn't shy down from it at all, but his personality is just much more low-key."
Oswalt was Houston's starter on Opening Day, not Clemens or Pettitte for their hometown team. And Oswalt's last start was in the regular-season finale Sunday, when he beat the Cubs to make sure the Astros won the wild card.
''I don't think he's going to be running for political office any time soon. He just enjoys pitching," Garner said. ''If he could just move all this into his hometown, I think he'd be perfectly fine with that."
In his two starts in last year's playoff series against Atlanta, Oswalt allowed three runs over 11 1/3 innings. He won the Game 5 clincher to give Houston its first postseason series victory in eight tries.
Oswalt might be the third pitcher for the Astros, but Atlanta knows he's not a No. 3 starter.
''Oswalt could be a No. 1 on any team in baseball for me. He's got electric stuff," Braves manager Bobby Cox said.
''He's just sinker, curveball. He comes right at you," Atlanta's Marcus Giles said. ''It's pretty baffling. He has great stuff. He's right up there with the best of them, like A.J. Burnett and Clemens."
After Pettitte won the playoff opener, the Braves evened the series with a 7-1 victory over Clemens Thursday night.
Righthander Jorge Sosa makes his first playoff start for the Braves, who converted the power reliever into a starter midway through the season to fill a spot in an injury-plagued rotation. He went 10-3 with a 2.62 ERA as a starter.
''Without him, we wouldn't have recovered, I don't think. He pitched like a guy that was in the rotation, one of those guys making $7-8 million," Cox said.
''He's as big a surprise as there is in baseball this year," said Tim Hudson, the Game 1 loser whom Cox said is a possibility as the Game 4 starter on three days' rest.
Still, it seems like a certain advantage for the Astros today to be sending a 20-game winner against a pitcher who has never appeared in the postseason -- or against Houston.
The Astros have traditionally struggled against pitchers they've never seen before. And they don't usually score a lot of runs anyway, despite their scoring outburst in winning the series opener, 10-5.
The Braves got Sosa from Tampa Bay in a trade at the end of spring training, and put him in their rotation June 14 at Texas after Mike Hampton and John Thomson got hurt.
Sosa won that first start, and was 9-0 on the road, the only pitcher in the major leagues who made at least 10 starts on the road without a loss.
Now he gets his chance in the postseason.
''I don't feel nervous or anxious," Sosa said through a translator. ''I just put a lot of pressure on myself. It's my first time. I just ask God tomorrow to pitch a game like I've always done."