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Biggio, Astros top Pirates for seventh straight win

Sep 27, 2006 - 2:27 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- The Houston Astros are playing their best baseball of the season and it could not come at a better time.

Craig Biggio knocked in three runs and Andy Pettitte pitched 6 2/3 effective innings as the red-hot Astros posted a 7-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

With its seventh straight win, Houston (79-78) moved within 1 1/2 games of the reeling St. Louis Cardinals (80-76) in the National League Central Division with five games remaining.

The Astros swept a four-game series with the Cardinals last weekend to tighten the race.

"This is unbelievable right now," Pettitte said. "Really, you don't know what to say. We've just got to keep going out and doing what we're doing.

"I've already told everybody we better keep saying we have no shot because we've made it interesting. Hopefully we can continue to play well here and I think we have a chance."

Houston clinched a playoff berth on the season's last day in each of the last two years following big second-half surges.

This season, however, the Astros waited until the final two weeks to go on their longest winning streak of the year.

"We're playing good ball now," Houston 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."

"We've been through so much as a team this year that nothing really does faze 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."

With runners at the corners in the third, Biggio grounded a single to right field off Ian Snell (14-11) to snap a 3-3 tie. The 19-year veteran also had an RBI groundout in the first to make it 3-0 and a sacrifice fly in the fifth to increase the lead to 5-3.

"The biggest thing is to get them in any way you can," Biggio said. "I think sometimes when you get guys on third (base), you try to hit the ball in the air and drive it, but sometimes you forget a batter can take an out for an RBI any day of the week.

"Today was good, our guys got on and gave me some good situations to hit in. We battled all night long and were able to come away with a win."

"They got three very easy runs in the first inning that they more than likely never should have gotten," Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy said. "When you're playing against good ballclubs, that kind of stuff adds up."

Despite some early struggles, Pettitte (14-13) battled back to pick up the victory, allowing three runs and 10 hits with one walk and two strikeouts.

"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.

Russ Springer got the final out of the seventh and rookie Fernando Nieve hurled the final two frames.

Houston's Luke Scott added two hits and an RBI. Scott attributed the team's recent surge to playing with little pressure since many believed the Astros were out of the playoff race.

"This game's supposed to be fun, 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," he said. "You've just got to take what they give you and just play hard every day and not worry about the results."

Snell yielded six runs - four earned - and seven hits in five innings. He left the game because of tightness in his forearm and said some of the fingers on his right hand were numb.

The team said he will be re-evaluated on Wednesday and it is not yet known if Snell will be able to make his final start of the season on Sunday.

Jason Bay hit his team-leading 35th homer for the Pirates.

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