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Perez wins fourth straight start

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates know all about bad
baseball, having gone through 12 consecutive losing seasons. Even
they haven't seen anything like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Jose Castillo homered and drove in five runs to support Oliver
Perez's seven effective innings, and the Pirates reached .500 after
June 1 for the first time since 1999 by beating the Devil Rays 18-2
Saturday night.

"But we're not satisfied with being .500," Humberto Cota said.
"We want to be above .500 and compete with the big teams."

Pittsburgh, winning a season-high fourth in a row, opened a 3-0
lead in the first against Scott Kazmir to back Perez's fourth
consecutive victory. Perez (5-4) struck out 10 and retired 13 in a
row at one point while limiting Tampa Bay to five hits and one run
over seven innings.

The Pirates won their ninth in 12 games on a homestand that
wraps up Sunday and are 30-30 -- the latest in a season they've been
at .500 since September 1999. They are 22-14 since being 8-16 on
May 2.

By comparison, Tampa Bay's awful season keeps getting worse, if
that's possible. The Devil Rays are on pace to lose 110 games, and
are 1-10 on their current road trip with seven consecutive losses.

"I've never seen anything that stinks like this," Aubrey Huff
said. "This is bad. We keep saying 'keep your head up, keep your
head up, and good things will happen.' But good things never seen
to happen around here."

Not even having Kazmir (2-5) on the mound -- he's been their most
reliable starter -- prevented the Devil Rays' latest blowout loss.
They allowed 10 or more runs for a remarkable sixth time in 11
games and have been outscored 25-4 in the first two games of the
interleague series. They have given up 71 runs in seven games and
an ERA-inflating 50 runs in their last four.

"Where do we make changes?" manager Lou Piniella said about
possible lineup alterations. "The only people who can get this
thing stopped is the players."

The Devil Rays' 4-28 road record is one of the majors' five
worst to this point of a season since 1900, and they are 0-8
against the NL after going 15-3 a season ago, the best interleague
record in the majors.

Asked if he feared the season is spiraling out of control, Huff
said, "It already has spiraled out of control. We've won four
games on the road. We get beat in every which way possible. How
could it get any worse? If it happens like this the rest of the
year, I don't know how much more guys can take."

For the Pirates, getting to .500 is a small step on what they
hope is the path back to respectability for a franchise that hasn't
had a winning season since Barry Bonds was its left fielder.

"That isn't our goal," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Our
goal is to get better. I don't know the significance of it in
June."

Castillo made a slight adjustment in his stance after going
0-for-18, then had a run-scoring single after the first four
Pirates reached base in a three-run first. He added a three-run
homer, his third, in a six-run fifth inning.

Kazmir had won his last two starts and had given up two or fewer
earned runs in three of his last four starts, but allowed eight
hits and nine runs in 4 1/3 innings to jump his ERA from 3.86 to
4.70.

Daryle Ward drove in four runs, and rookie Ryan Doumit reached
base five times, had three hits, scored three times and had his
first three career RBI in his second major league start.

Perez was 1-4 with an 8.03 ERA after an 8-4 loss to Arizona on
May 6, and has since lowered his ERA to 5.88. But his enthusiasm in
doing so is angering some opposing hitters.

Eduardo Perez, unhappy with what he felt were the left-hander's
showboat antics, stepped out of the box and signaled his
disapproval in the fourth, then struck out.

"If a guy starts clowning around out there, I'm going to let
him know about it," he said.

Game notes
The Pirates have won their last five home series. ...
Pittsburgh hadn't won four in a row since Aug. 14-17. ... Oliver
Perez didn't allow a homer or an extra-base hit after giving up 16
homers in his first 11 starts. ... The Pirates hadn't been .500
since they were 23-23 last season. Their 20 hits and 18 runs were a
season high. They hadn't scored as many as 18 since a 19-2 win over
the Mets on Sept. 26, 1992. ... Tampa Bay allowed 19 runs in a 19-8
loss to the Yankees on April 18.