for this game

Ausmus' sacrifice fly helps Astros keep pace in NL Central

Sep 28, 2006 - 4:28 AM PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Brad Ausmus helped the Houston Astros keep pace in the playoff race.

Ausmus hit a sacrifice fly to center field in the 15th, allowing Craig Biggio to score the winning run to complete a comeback as the Astros posted a 7-6 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Lance Berkman belted his 44th homer for Houston (80-78), which remained 1 1/2 games back of St. Louis for first place in the National League Central Division.

"Every win is huge for us at this point because of the position we put ourselves in the first five and a half months of the season," Ausmus said. "But watching the (St. Louis) Cardinals win made it even more crucial going into extra innings and understanding if we lose this game, we go to 2 1/2 back and three in the loss column with only four games left for us. Obviously, this was a crucial win."

The Cardinals defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-2, earlier Wednesday.

With a runner on in the 15th, Biggio reached on a force play before moving to third on a single to center by Orlando Palmeiro. Ausmus lofted an 0-2 pitch from rookie reliever Jonah Bayliss (1-1) deep enough into center, plating Biggio for a 7-6 edge.

"Right after the ball left the bat, I knew it was enough to get Bigg home," Ausmus said.

Rookie Chris Sampson (2-0) pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win and Trever Miller recorded the final out in the 15th for his first save for Houston, which has won a season-best eight straight games.

The Pirates had six runs after five innings but did not score for the final 10 frames.

"I'm really pleased with the job the bullpen did tonight," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "Some guys have pitched a lot and they went out and did a super job tonight."

Before Ausmus' decisive at-bat, Astros manager Phil Garner's decision to intentionally walk Freddy Sanchez and Jason Bay to load the bases in the 11th paid off when reliever Dan Wheeler induced Xavier Nady into an inning-ending groundout.

With Houston facing a 6-5 deficit in the ninth, Luke Scott forced the game into extra innings.

Willy Taveras reached on a one-out infield single and moved to second on a groundout by Mike Lamb. After Pittsburgh manager Jim Tracy elected to intentionally walk Berkman for the second consecutive time, Scott came through by stroking an RBI single back up the middle against reliever Matt Capps, allowing Taveras to score easily for a 6-6 tie.

"The bottom line is we got a win," Biggio said. "Guys in here could care less about anything else but wins right now. It took us a long time, but we got it and that's all that matters."

The Pirates took a 6-1 lead in the fifth with a three-run frame, highlighted by a two-run single by Nady, before the Astros closed within a run in the next inning.

Lamb started the uprising with a run-scoring double, Berkman followed with a two-run homer to right-center and Adam Everett capped the scoring with a sacrifice fly to left.

"It was a good ballgame," Garner said. "We battled hard and there were some gutsy performances from a whole bunch of guys tonight."

Rookie Jason Hirsh lasted just three-plus innings, giving up three runs, six hits and a walk. The 6-8 righthander struck out one batter. His counterpart, Shawn Chacon, was responsible for five runs and six hits in 5 1/3 frames. He struck out five while walking one.

Ryan Doumit hit his sixth homer for Pittsburgh, which has dropped six consecutive games.

"It's pretty important to finish strong," said Sanchez, who had two hits, raising his NL-leading batting average to .346. "That's our goal, to finish strong. That's what everybody tries to do and that's what we'll try to do these next four games."

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