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Astros set club record with 21st victory this month

HOUSTON (AP) -- No matter whether they are playing small ball or
hitting the long ball, starting a future Hall of Famer or
back-to-back rookies, nothing can slow the Houston Astros these
days.

Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio homered, and
rookie Wandy Rodriguez had his third straight solid start, leading
the Astros past the New York Mets 5-2 Friday night to continue
their amazing July run.

Houston won for the 12th time in 13 games and 21st time this
month, breaking a club record set in 1976. The Astros also moved
into the lead in the NL wild-card race, passing Washington, which
lost to Florida, and climbed to a season-best nine games over .500.
Another eye-popping stat: This was their 20th win in the last 22
home games.

"It's been pretty incredible for us lately," Berkman said.

Houston has won its last two games behind strong outings by
Rodriguez (6-4) and fellow rookie Ezequiel Astacio. Before that,
Roger Clemens won.

The Astros won on Wednesday and Thursday behind two squeeze
plays and no homers. This time, they were trotting around the bases
instead of racing home after bunts.

Biggio hit a solo shot off Mets starter Kris Benson (7-4) in the
first inning, then Berkman added a two-run homer in the third.
After the Mets scored twice to get within a run in the top of the
sixth, Ensberg answered with a two-run homer in the bottom of the
inning.

"It's just fun coming to the park now," Biggio said. "The
fans are pretty pumped up, too."

While the locals are supporting this team, they're also making a
hobby out of booing departed star Carlos Beltran. Picking up where
they left off Thursday night when they rankled him into going
0-for-4, a second straight sellout crowd pestered him at every
opportunity. Beltran handled it better this time, going 1-for-3
with a walk, a stolen base and scoring the Mets' first run.

"I can't let it affect my play," he said. "I tried to look at
it a different way. When they booed me, I tried to think they do it
because they care about me. I tried to make it positive and not a
negative."

After Astacio shut out the Mets over his last five innings
Thursday night, Rodriguez opened this game with five more scoreless
frames. He walked Beltran and Cliff Floyd to open the sixth and
both scored, Beltran on a sacrifice fly by David Wright, then Mike
Piazza singling home Floyd.

Rodriguez gave up two runs and four hits in six innings,
striking out three and walking two. Astros starters have given up
no more than two runs in nine of their last 10 starts -- and have
Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte starting the next two games.

Brad Lidge struck out two in the ninth for his 25th save in 28
chances.

"Our pitching has been good," Houston manager Phil Garner
said. "You can't say that enough."

Benson came in with an 0-5 record and an 8.03 ERA in seven
starts at Minute Maid Park, all with Pittsburgh. He was hoping
things would be different now that he's with the Mets.

Biggio let him know they wouldn't by driving one of Benson's
first pitches into the left-field seats. He allowed five runs in 5
1/3 innings, his worst outing since May 10.

"My fastball location was terrible," Benson said. "As hot as
their team is, you've got to make your pitches, and I didn't."

New York fell to 1-4 on its road trip and made the kind of
mistakes teams can't afford when trying to stay in the playoff
chase.

Piazza guessed right by calling a pitchout with speedy rookie
Willy Taveras on first base but apparently had trouble gripping the
ball because he never even threw it. Taveras ended up scoring on
Berkman's homer.

In the seventh, Jose Reyes must have thought he had fouled off a
two-strike pitch, causing it to go to the backstop, because he
never ran to first base, even though plate umpire Andy Fletcher was
motioning that there was a play there. Reyes stared at Fletcher
instead of running, giving Astros catcher Humberto Quintero plenty
of time to chase the ball and make the throw.

"I like to think our players are tough-minded. But sometimes
you don't get the breaks and your execution breaks down," manager
Willie Randolph said. "If you let the frustration of that get to
you, then you won't be successful. ... We've taken a step back.
We've got to get going again."

Game notes
Benson had allowed only 11 homers in 16 games. ...
Anti-Beltran sign of the night: "We Miss You Beltran" with the
guy next to him holding up a banner that read, "He's Lying." ...
Longtime Astros play-by-play man Milo Hamilton announced he will
work only home games starting next season. The 77-year-old Hamilton
has been calling games since 1950 and is in his 21st season in
Houston.