PHILADELPHIA — Where Roy Oswalt is most comfortable is in Weir, his tiny hometown in central Mississippi.
That's where he grew up and still lives. That's right by where he built the Double 4 Ranch, the 3,000-square-foot hunting lodge that sits on 1,000 acres of land stocked with whitetail deer. And where he just last year helped build and open the HomePlate Fish & Steakhouse, so the 500 or so others who live near Weir (pronounced WHERE) would no longer have to drive 30 miles to the closest restaurant.
"You could call it a small town, but I'm not even sure it's a small town, because a small town has two or more (traffic) lights, and I don't think there are two," said Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey, who made several offseason visits when he and Oswalt were with the Astros. "It's a nice little place. And it's quiet, and that's the way he likes it."
But Oswalt, 33, can also be pretty comfortable on the mound for a big game.
And that's where he will be today, doing everything he can to extend the Phillies season to a seventh game of the NL Championship Series.
"I try to pitch every game like it's the last one," Oswalt said Friday. "You never know; you're never guaranteed the next day. So it's going to be no different: trying to attack hitters and make them beat me, not trying to put guys on. … It's a must-win game, but I treat every one of them like a must-win."
After Roy Halladay pitched through a pulled groin Thursday to get the Phillies back home, they couldn't be more confident than to have their season in Oswalt's right hand, even more so since he's unbeaten at Citizens Bank Park and never lost a postseason start.
"He definitely is a competitor," manager Charlie Manuel said. "You can tell that by how he gets the ball and throws it, and some of the things he does, how he looks on the mound and everything. Presence counts."
Oswalt has pitched in big games before, perhaps none more so than Game 6 of the 2005 NLCS against the Cardinals, when his Astros had been stunned in the previous game by Albert Pujols' ninth-inning homer. Oswalt went into St. Louis and allowed three hits and one run over seven innings as the Astros took the pennant.
"That," Hickey said, "was pretty impressive."
A strong outing today could be equally so, when you consider the context: Oswalt pitched eight strong innings to lead the Phillies to their Game 2 win on Sunday night then — after throwing his usual between-starts bullpen session Wednesday — made a valiant, albeit unsuccessful, relief appearance in Game 4.
Oswalt shrugged off even the suggestion Friday that the extra workload would affect him today, Manuel noting the resiliency of his "rubber" arm.
"I don't know how much longer I'm going to play, and I may not get to this spot again," Oswalt said. "So I'm going to try to do everything possible."
Which is exactly what Hickey would expect from the otherwise quiet and mild-mannered son from Weir, Miss.
"He's as tough as they come," Hickey said. "He's just extremely understated. He does nothing to call attention to himself. There's no braggadocio about him. He doesn't pound his chest or untuck his shirt or blow kisses to the sky or point to anybody.
"He just takes care of business. And that's the way he likes it."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]