Cubs' Prior falls to 0-4, losing to Astros, Pettitte

HOUSTON (AP) -- Andy Pettitte feels like nothing has come easily
for him this season. Fortunately for him, he faced a team on
Tuesday that's struggled even more than he has.

Pettitte pitched six effective innings, Mike Lamb drove in three
runs and a wild pitch by Mark Prior led to two runs for the Houston
Astros in a 7-2 win over the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

"Well, it was a win," Pettitte said with a relieved smile.
"That's always a good thing."

Pettitte (7-9) allowed seven hits, but only one run, and struck
out three to earn his first win since he beat the Cubs on June 13.
He also walked four.

"It wasn't like I cruised through it," Pettitte said. "It
seemed like I had baserunners every inning."

Houston relievers Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge pitched the final
three innings to secure the Astros' fourth straight victory, their
longest winning streak since mid-June.

Pettitte lost his last two starts and took a no-decision in
Houston's 7-4 loss to Kansas City on June 18.

He got into immediate trouble against the Cubs, giving up
hard-hit singles to Juan Pierre and Derrek Lee in the first inning
and walks to Michael Barrett and Matt Murton in the second.

Manager Phil Garner said plate umpire Jerry Layne wasn't doing
Pettitte any favors.

"He had a tight zone early," Garner said, "but he kept
battling and grinding and he worked through it."

Pettitte had already thrown 35 pitches when Juan Pierre led off
the third with a double, reaching base for the 22nd time in his
last 23 games. Pierre trotted to third on Neifi Perez's groundout
and scored on Lee's single to right.

"You walk a couple and you feel like you get behind in the
count too much, then you start to get too aggressive, then you make
mistakes to the middle of the plate," Pettitte said. "There's a
fine line there, especially the way my season's going."

But Pettitte never made a mistake as costly as the one Prior
made in the sixth inning, with the Astros up 2-1.

With one out, Preston Wilson doubled to right-center and Morgan
Ensberg and Adam Everett drew consecutive walks to load the bases.

Brad Ausmus lined out before the lefty-batting Orlando Palmeiro
hit for Pettitte.

With a 1-1 count, Prior's 107th pitch skidded into the dirt and
under Michael Barrett's right knee guard.

Wilson slid home as Barrett made a bad throw to Prior covering
the plate. The ball bounced toward the Cubs' on-deck circle and
Ensberg scored as Prior chased it down. Prior was charged with an
error for failing to corral Barrett's throw.

Craig Biggio added a bloop single to right with the bases loaded
in the eighth off Glendon Rusch, making his first appearance since
returning from the 15-day disabled list on Monday.

Lamb followed with a two-run double to the left-field corner,
giving the Astros at least seven runs for the fourth straight game.

Watching from the clubhouse by then, Pettitte got the most run
support he's received since the 9-2 win over the Cubs on June 13.

"It was a blowout, huh?" Pettitte said. "You couldn't have
convinced me after six innings, I can promise you that. It's nice
to break it open late."

The Cubs lost for the 10th time in 12 games.

Prior (0-4) allowed four runs, three earned, and four hits in
six innings. He struck out seven and walked four in his strongest
start since coming off the disabled list on June 18.

He retired 11 of the first 12 Astros he faced, striking out
four. But with two outs in the third, he walked Biggio and grazed
Willy Taveras with a pitch.

Lamb and Lance Berkman followed with RBI singles to center.

Prior was more upset about that sequence than he was with the
wild pitch.

"It's got to be a mental thing," Prior said. "I know I can
physically do it, but it happens occasionally and I've got to work
my way through it."

The Astros got away with a blown rundown in the fourth.

With two outs, Perez doubled off the left-field wall and Lee
walked. As Aramis Ramirez batted, Pettitte threw to Lamb at first,
catching Lee leaning toward second. Lamb chased Lee halfway down
the baseline, then flipped an errant toss to Biggio, who dropped
the ball.

Ramirez lined out to end the threat, then pounded his helmet on
the turf as Pettitte walked past him to the dugout.

Game notes
The Astros have won seven of eight meetings with the Cubs
this season. ... Berkman, who homered twice in Monday's 7-2 win,
has 33 RBI in his last 32 games. ... The Astros turned a double
play in the fourth, extending their major league-leading total to
102. ... Prior is winless in his last seven starts, the longest
drought of his career.