Pirates 3, Astros 1, 1st game; Astros 9, Pirates 2, 2nd game

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Because Josh Fogg didn’t resemble Oliver Perez, the Houston Astros again look a team that’s going to be hard to stop in September.

Jeff Bagwell, Brad Ausmus and Lance Berkman drove in two runs each and the Astros shook off Perez’s dominance in the opener, beating Pittsburgh 9-2 Thursday night for their 13th victory in 14 games and a doubleheader split.

In the first game, Perez ended Houston’s 12-game winning streak with the most dominating start of his short career, striking 14 in a 3-1 victory—the Astros’ only loss since Aug. 26.

The Astros averaged nine-plus runs during their franchise-record tying winning streak and quickly returned to form by scoring nine in the second game. The Astros won their 16th in 18 games and 21st in 25 games and are tied with the Giants for the NL wild-card lead, despite trailing by seven games only three weeks ago.

“We needed the second game in a big way,” Craig Biggio said.

Fogg (9-10) didn’t offer nearly the challenge Perez did, giving Houston a gift run with a balk while allowing eight runs and eight hits in 6 2-3 innings.

“The win’s important to us because we’re in the pennant race,” manager Phil Garner said. “The second thing is we want to keep driving, and to keep driving you want to keep winning. You don’t want any letdowns.”

The Astros led 2-0 after doubles by Berkman, Jose Vizcaino and Ausmus in the second, then added two more in the third when Fogg halted his delivery with the bases loaded and was called for a run-scoring balk. Mike Lamb followed with an RBI grounder.

Fogg became confused with the signs while winding up and hesitated, then tried to cover up his mistake by rushing the ball to the plate.

“Everybody’s yelling and you know you’ve just made a mistake,” Fogg said. “My acting job wasn’t very good.”

Astros starter Tim Redding, back up from Triple-A New Orleans, was in line for his first victory since July 24 before being lifted with two outs and Houston up 5-2 in the fifth. Mike Gallo (1-0) retired the only two batters he faced for his second career victory.

Daryle Ward hit a two-run homer, but the Pirates still lost their sixth in eight games and 22nd in 29 games.

In the opener, Perez (10-8) allowed only three hits and an unearned run over eight innings, joining Bob Veale as only the pitchers in the Pirates’ 118-season history with 200 strikeouts in a season. Perez has 212 after setting a single-game career high. Veale struck out 200 or more four times in the 1960s.

“It’s the best game of my career,” said Perez, who started against Houston only because the Pirates were rained out Wednesday against Milwaukee.

Perez leads the majors by averaging 11 strikeouts and has nine double-digit strikeout games this season. He bounced back after allowing four homers in an 8-6 loss Friday to Roger Clemens and the Astros.

“That game I threw the ball, I didn’t pitch,” Perez said. “This game, I didn’t throw the ball, I pitched.”

The Astros barely put the ball in play after the early innings. Perez struck out five in a row over the sixth and seventh innings, and eight in a span of 13 batters from the fourth through seventh. He needed only 10 pitches to strike out the side in the seventh. Jeff Kent’s one-out single in the fourth was Houston’s final hit.

The Astros’ only run came when right fielder Rob Mackowiak dropped Craig Biggio’s two-out fly ball in the eighth for an error. Perez struck out Carlos Beltran to get out of that inning, then was lifted after throwing 114 pitches, 80 for strikes.

“We want him to be able to do this for the next 15 years and if he goes out there and throws 140 pitches, he won’t,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Jose Mesa pitched the ninth for his 38th save in 43 opportunities.

Two Pirates rookies got key hits against Carlos Hernandez (1-2), who gave up five hits and walked four in 5 2-3 innings. Tony Alvarez had a two-out RBI single in the first and Jose Castillo doubled leading off the fourth for the second of his three hits, then scored on Jason Kendall’s sacrifice fly.

Notes

Perez’s previous high was 13 strikeouts, accomplished three times. … Perez is the first Pirates pitcher to strike out 14 since Jose DeLeon on April 16, 1985. Veale twice struck out 16, the franchise record. … Houston is 11-3 against Pittsburgh. … The Astros’ winning streak tied an earlier Tampa Bay 12-game run as the majors’ longest this season.

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