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Pettitte, Biggio drive Astros to seventh straight win

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Houston Astros figured out how to take the
pressure off themselves -- and that's how they earned the chance to
play pressure-packed games during the last week of September.

Craig Biggio drove in three runs and Andy Pettitte pitched the
surging Astros to their seventh straight victory Tuesday night, 7-4
over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Mike Lamb scored three times for second-place Houston, which
moved within 1½ games of fading St. Louis in the NL Central. The
Cardinals lost their seventh straight, 7-5 to San Diego.

A week ago, the NL champion Astros seemed just about done. All
of a sudden, they're right in the middle of another pennant race.

"This is unbelievable right now," Pettitte said. "I mean,
really, you don't know what to say. ... Maybe we ought to keep
saying we got no shot, you know?"

Pettitte won his third straight decision and the Astros improved
to 79-78, the first time they've been over .500 since June 22 -- the
day Roger Clemens made his initial start of the season in a loss to
Minnesota.

"This game's supposed to be fun," said Houston's Luke Scott,
who had two hits, two runs and an RBI. "You're supposed to go out
there and play the game and not try to force results to happen. You
run into trouble a lot of times when you do that. You've just got
to take what they give you and just play hard every day and not
worry about the results."

The Astros gathered in the clubhouse after their game to watch
the Padres rally past the Cardinals.

"We're playing good ball now," manager Phil Garner said.
"We're doing the kind of things that I like to see our team do.
We're coming up with some big hits when we need them."

Jason Bay and Jose Bautista homered for the Pirates, who have
lost five in a row but had won eight of nine at home. Pittsburgh's
Freddy Sanchez went 4-for-5 to raise his NL-leading batting average
to .346.

Sanchez now leads by 11 points over Florida's Miguel Cabrera,
who went 1-for-4 in a loss to Cincinnati.

"I don't think it's over yet," Sanchez said. "I just have got
to take it one game at time."

Houston jumped on Ian Snell (14-11) for three runs in the first
inning. Scott's single scored Lamb, who walked with one out. Aubrey Huff singled home Lance Berkman two batters later, and Biggio
followed with a groundout that scored Scott.

"The biggest thing is when you get opportunities, you have to
take advantage of them," Biggio said. "You ask any starting
pitcher -- they'll take a three-run lead and be very happy to take
the mound with that."

There is compelling drama in the National League Central. Alan Schwarz and Jerry Crasnick debate whether the red-hot Astros have a shot to overtake the slumping Cardinals.

• Baseball Today 

After Pettitte retired the Pirates in order in the first, Bay
led off the second with his 35th homer -- a shot to right on a 2-0
pitch.

Three batters later, Bautista hit a two-run homer, his 16th, to
tie the score at 3.

But that was all the Pirates could manage against Pettitte
(14-13), who scattered 10 hits and a walk while striking out two.
He improved to 7-1 lifetime against Pittsburgh.

"I wasn't quite getting my cutter where I wanted it, so you've
got to go to plan B and go the other direction and I was able to
make some adjustments and get through the game," Pettitte said.

Houston took a 4-3 lead when Biggio singled with two outs in the
third to score Lamb. Biggio got his third RBI in the fifth when
Lamb scored on his sacrifice fly. When Adam Everett followed with a
single that scored Scott, the Astros took a 6-3 lead.

Berkman added an RBI single in the eighth.

"We're playing well, that's the biggest thing," Biggio said.
"We know what we're capable of. It's become a lot of fun again.
We're watching other teams' games right now and it's exciting."

The Pirates loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but
Russ Springer got pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit to foul out to third.

"That was the ballgame as far as I was concerned," Garner
said.

Sanchez added an RBI double in the ninth to make it 7-4.

Snell gave up six runs -- four earned -- and seven hits in five
innings. He complained of numbness in his fingers upon leaving the
game, and manager Jim Tracy said his next scheduled start in the
season finale Sunday is in doubt due to forearm tightness. The team
said Snell would be re-evaluated Wednesday.

"I wasn't myself," said Snell, the first Pirates pitcher to
win 14 games since Todd Ritchie won 15 in 1999. "I was all over
the place, walking people. My mechanics were all screwed up."

During his 11-year career, Pettitte said he's never seen
anything like the simultaneous winning and losing streaks the
Astros and Cardinals are going through. But Houston's work is far
from done. It still needs to make up two games in the loss column
with five to play.

"We've been through so much as a team this year that nothing
really does phase us," Biggio said. "Whatever the situation is,
you handle it the best you can and hopefully you pick each other up
as a club, and over the last week we've done a real nice job of
that."

Game notes
The Astros are 43-32 against NL Central teams this season --
the only division against which the club has a winning record. ...
Biggio's third-inning single was his 2,927th hit, tying him with Al
Simmons for 33rd on the career list. ... Pittsburgh LHP Damaso
Marte left in the sixth with tightness in his lower right back.