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Nady's homer leads Mets past Astros in Backe's return

NEW YORK (AP) -- One minute, Orlando Hernandez was in trouble. By
the second inning, he was in control.

El Duque overcame a shaky start and Xavier Nady hit a three-run
homer to lead the New York Mets past the slumping Houston Astros
4-3 Saturday.

Carlos Delgado added a sacrifice fly, helping the NL
East-leading Mets to their third consecutive victory and 11th in 15
games. They improved to a season-best 21 games over .500, thanks to
Hernandez's quick recovery.

"He looked like the Duque that I know," New York manager
Willie Randolph said.

Houston starter Brandon Backe came off the disabled list and
lasted four innings in his first start in more than three months.
The Astros dropped their third straight and ninth in 12 games to
fall a season-worst six games below .500.

"Just pull out your notes from yesterday," manager Phil Garner
said. "I don't have any new answers."

A two-run homer by Lance Berkman and a solo shot by Preston Wilson off Hernandez (6-8) in the first gave Backe a 3-0 lead.

But after Delgado's sacrifice fly in the bottom half, Backe
(1-1) ran into trouble in the fourth. He issued a leadoff walk to
Delgado before Cliff Floyd singled. Nady then drove a 2-2 pitch
over the left-field fence for his career-best 14th homer and a 4-3
New York lead.

"I had it tonight. I just let it slip away with one pitch, a
slider," Backe said. "We had him set up perfectly for a
front-door slider. I just didn't execute the pitch. I dragged it
and it came back over the plate."

Hernandez made the lead hold up, striking out eight in seven
solid innings. He yielded only four hits and walked two, rebounding
from a poor performance at Wrigley Field in his previous outing.

The right-hander has gone at least seven innings in four of his
past six starts, allowing three runs or fewer in each of those four
outings.

In his other two starts during that stretch, he's lasted only 1
2/3 innings each time.

"I'm feeling good. That's more important than anything,"
Hernandez said.

El Duque followed John Maine's four-hitter in a 7-0 victory
Friday night, giving the Mets consecutive strong outings from the
unsettled back end of their rotation.

"What he did today was just about as impressive as what John
Maine did yesterday," New York closer Billy Wagner said. "It was
impressive to see him go out there and compete.

"That's what big-game pitchers are about."

Duaner Sanchez tossed a scoreless eighth and Wagner got three
outs in a steady rain for his 20th save in 24 chances. It also was
his first save against his former team.

"When you have to face those guys you just want to get it over
with and win the game," Wagner said.

Backe allowed four runs, four hits and four walks in his first
outing since April 13 in San Francisco. The right-hander left that
start after only two innings because of soreness in his pitching
elbow and wound up on the 60-day DL with a sprained right elbow.

Backe went 10-8 with a 4.76 ERA for the NL champion Astros last
year.

"I felt great. I was very excited out there. I was thrilled to
be back out there in a major league ballgame," he said. "No pain
in my arm today, 69 pitches today. It should be pretty good for my
next start. I really feel good."

Craig Biggio drew a leadoff walk in the first from Hernandez.
One out later, Berkman hit his 26th homer over the right-field
fence, giving him 87 RBI.

Wilson connected with two outs for his 22nd career homer against
the Mets, but Hernandez put up zeros from there on.

"After that, he was able to really bear down," Biggio said.
"I think we got one walk after that. His location was a little bit
better. He elevates really well, and it's tough, especially for
right-handers, to pick up the ball. He just seemed to settle
down."

The start was delayed 57 minutes by rain. Showers delayed the
start of Friday night's game for 54 minutes.

Game notes
New York improved to 21-9 in one-run games, the most such
wins in the majors. ... Mets 3B David Wright got a day off. ... New
York RHP Pedro Martinez, on the disabled list with a sore right
hip, threw 80 pitches in a simulated game and said he felt strong.
He threw all his pitches and said he'd like to start next weekend
in Atlanta, as long as he keeps feeling good. ... Berkman made a
nice running catch of Carlos Beltran's drive to deep right-center,
ending the third. ... Attendance was 46,574.