<
>

Giants hold half-game wild-card lead on Cubs

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Barry Bonds praised his teammates for their
clutch play while he's been busy walking all season, then watched
them go out and do most of the work Tuesday night.

Pedro Feliz matched his career high with four RBI, and Brett
Tomko won his sixth straight decision in the San Francisco Giants'
9-2 victory over the Houston Astros.

Bonds, who had two days to rest after being held out of the
lineup Sunday and getting a team day off Monday, drove in a run to
help the Giants win for the eighth time in nine games, but also got
plunked in the right shin by Russ Springer in the eighth.

San Francisco stopped Houston's four-game winning streak to
maintain a half-game lead in the NL wild-card race over the Chicago
Cubs and closed within 1½ games of NL West-leading Los Angeles,
which lost 9-4 at San Diego. The Astros dropped two games back of
San Francisco.

The Giants plan to make things interesting down to the final day
-- whether they make the playoffs or not.

"That's what it's all about," said Tomko, whose recent work
with a sports psychologist has helped his frame of mind. "For the
young guys who have never been to the playoffs, this is the closest
they've been to a playoff atmosphere. This is what you play all
year for. Everything's big."

Before the game, the Giants announced they would drop their
right to void the final year of Bonds' contract, meaning the
slugger will have at least two more seasons with San Francisco to
break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755.

For now, his teammates are helping take the pressure off him.

Feliz doubled twice, Deivi Cruz had three hits, drove in two
runs and scored twice for San Francisco, and Dustan Mohr singled
three times and scored twice. Ray Durham added three hits with an
eighth-inning triple, and scored three runs.

Bonds remained at 701 homers, going 0-for-3 with his 107th
intentional walk. He hit his 700th home run last Friday night, then
followed with 701 on Saturday.

Tomko (11-6), coming off a four-hitter in an 8-1 victory at
Milwaukee last Wednesday, struck out five and walked three. He gave
way to Jim Brower with two outs in the ninth after walking Lance
Berkman.

"I hadn't seen Tomko for a while," Astros manager Phil Garner
said. "He's a different pitcher now. He threw a lot more
fastballs. He picked up some velocity somewhere."

He also picked up some pointers about the mental side of the
game from Los Angeles sports psychologist Alan Jaeger. Since they
first spoke by phone -- they've never met in person -- before Tomko's
Aug. 26 start at Florida, Tomko has gone 5-0 in six outings.

"It's been good. It's a piece of the puzzle that may have been
lacking," Tomko said.

The Giants rallied after Jeff Bagwell and Berkman homered on
back-to-back pitches in the first inning to give the Astros a 2-0
lead, the ninth time this season the Astros have hit consecutive
homers.

San Francisco responded with three runs in the bottom half on
three hits. Bonds was credited for an RBI when his hard roller got
past shifted shortstop Jose Vizcaino for an error, a play the
scored two runs. Astros starter Carlos Hernandez (1-3) pitched to
the six-time NL MVP with runners on second and third -- just the
second time all season Bonds has had an at-bat in that situation.

The Giants batted around in their four-run fourth.

"I was really concentrating for this start," Hernandez said.
"It was really important for us, and I guess I let the team
down."

After Craig Biggio walked to start the third, Tomko got 13
straight outs before Mike Lamb singled in the seventh. Tomko struck
out Jeff Kent on a called third strike to end the first inning.
Kent cursed, then argued with plate umpire C.B. Bucknor before
heading out to his position at second base.

Kent, who played six for the Giants through 2002, was booed when
he stepped into the batter's box. He was caught looking again
leading off the fourth, then flied out to left in the seventh.

Game notes
Hernandez hasn't won since Aug. 29, a span of four starts.
This was his first career start against San Francisco and also his
shortest outing of the year, lasting only 2 1-3 innings. ... The
Astros are 14-5 in September while the Giants improved to 12-5,
second only to Houston. ... The Giants are 23-8 against the Astros
since 2000. San Francisco leads the season series 3-1. ... Tomko
had three sacrifice bunts, one shy of the nine-inning major league
record, accomplished five times, last by Cleveland's Ray Chapman on
Aug. 31, 1919. Bonds moved into sole possession of 11th on the RBI
last with 1,840, one more than Ted Williams.