<
>

Rookie hurls complete game, stays unbeaten

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Noah Lowry takes a lesson out of every
outing, and the baseball world is quickly learning that this kid is
pitching nothing like a 23-year-old rookie.

"Oh nooo," teammate Ray Durham said, shaking his head. "He
has composure and mound presence well beyond his years."

Lowry is a big reason the San Francisco Giants are in the thick
of the playoff race despite many writing them off months ago.

Lowry won his sixth straight decision and remained unbeaten in
13 major league starts, and Durham hit a two-run double among his
three hits to lead the Giants to a 5-1 victory over the Houston
Astros on Wednesday night.

Lowry (6-0) limited the Astros to five hits in his second career
complete game, helping the Giants win for the ninth time in 10
games behind a balanced offense to remain a half-game ahead of the
Cubs in the NL wild-card race. Chicago won 1-0 at Pittsburgh.
Houston dropped three games back.

San Francisco also pulled within a half-game of the first-place
Dodgers in the NL West after Los Angeles lost 4-0 to San Diego.

"Right now, the energy in the clubhouse is really high," Lowry
said. "We're catching fire and all coming together."

Barry Bonds hit an RBI triple off the fence in right-center in
the first, but the slugger didn't get any chances after that. He
was intentionally walked four times -- the fourth time he's been
issued four free passes in a game this season, which equals his own
major league record for a nine-inning game.

Roy Oswalt (18-10), who failed to become the National League's
first 19-game winner, walked Bonds intentionally in the third and
fifth innings. Mike Gallo did the same in the sixth when San
Francisco batted around and Dan Miceli walked Bonds in the eighth --
giving the six-time NL MVP 213 total walks and 111 free passes this
season.

But Bonds has been getting sufficient help lately. Seven of the
nine San Francisco starters got hits. The Giants also are getting
longer outings from their starting pitchers.

"For a while, Barry carried us, and then (Pedro) Feliz carried
us. Then J.T. (Snow) carried us," Durham said. "It's extremely
nice to know on any given night any different guy can beat you and
they have to worry about the other eight in the lineup. That makes
us more dangerous."

San Francisco won the opener of this key three-game series 9-2
Tuesday night, and will try to complete a sweep Thursday with ace
Jason Schmidt on the mound.

"Tomorrow's a must win, no doubt about it," Houston's Jeff
Bagwell said. "This is not the scenario we expected when we walked
in here."

Lowry owns the second-longest career-opening winning streak by a
rookie starter in Giants franchise history.

The only pitcher to start his career with more victories without
a loss was Hooks Wiltse, who went 12-0 to begin the 1904 season for
New York -- a major league record. Giants left-hander Kirk Rueter
began 10-0 with Montreal over two seasons (1993-94).

Lowry retired 10 of the first 12 Houston hitters, allowing a
second-inning solo homer to Jeff Kent and a single two batters
later.

"Guys told me that he had some guts, and he showed it," Kent
said.

In the fifth, Lowry worked out of a jam with runners on second
and third by getting three straight outs. Snow, the first baseman,
made a sliding catch on his knees into the fence in front of the
dugout for the final out on a foul popup by Craig Biggio.

Lowry pumped his arm and yelled, 'Yeah!' then smacked gloves
with Snow. Lowry called it the play of the game and said it kept
the Giants' momentum.

"Stuff like that doesn't get the attention it should, but
players know," Snow said.

It certainly meant a lot to Lowry, who retired the side in order
in the first, third, fourth, sixth innings and ninth innings.

He struck out seven and walked one.

The Giants took the lead in the bottom of the fifth on Feliz's
RBI single that scored Durham from second following a stolen base.
San Francisco got five hits in its three-run sixth, including
Durham's double and a run-scoring single by Deivi Cruz.

Kent, booed for the second straight night by his former fans,
connected for his 23rd homer in the second, then grinned as he
rounded the bases. He grounded out in the fourth and struck out in
the seventh.

Oswalt had won his last five decisions, but never established a
rhythm Wednesday. He allowed 10 hits -- his most in 11 starts -- five
earned runs, struck out three and walked four in 5 2-3 innings.

Game notes
Durham got his eighth and ninth stolen bases -- the first
time a Giants player has stolen two bags in a game since Bonds got
two last June 22 at Oakland. ... Kent is 1-for-7 in the series. His
23rd homer set a new Houston record for homers by second basemen in
a season.