Pirates 2, Astros 0

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—Kip Wells’ strong start and Jose Mesa’s milestone-reaching finish made for another nothing day for the Houston Astros.

Wells allowed four hits over seven innings and Mesa became the 19th pitcher with 300 career saves as the Pittsburgh Pirates won their first series of the season, beating Houston 2-0 Wednesday for the Astros’ fifth consecutive loss.

The Astros didn’t score in either game of the weather-shortened two-game series and have been shut out in three of their last four. They also are a major league-worst 1-10 on the road—their worst start since they were 0-13 in 1969.

Mesa pitched the ninth to become the third Latin American pitcher with 300 saves, joining Mariano Rivera and Roberto Hernandez. Mesa, who turns 39 next month, has 51 saves in 55 chances with Pittsburgh after his closer’s career looked to be over when the Phillies took the job away from him in 2003.

Mesa has saved each of the Pirates’ eight victories, the first time a major league reliever has done so. Previously, no pitcher had saved more than five consecutive wins to start a season.

“They gave me a chance over here and I wanted to show them I still could pitch,” Mesa said. “I was a little nervous today because, to me, saving 300 games is like winning 300 games is for a starting pitcher.”

Wells, Rick White and Mesa combined to extend the Astros’ string of scoreless innings to 22. Houston’s 0-5 road trip included defeats to some of the NL’s top starters, including the Cardinals’ Mark Mulder, who shut them out for 10 innings Saturday, and Matt Morris and the Pirates’ Oliver Perez.

“I don’t know if you can pitch any tougher than some of guys we’ve faced,” Jason Lane said after the Astros managed only nine hits in the series. “We’re not getting a whole lot of chances and when we are, we’re not getting the hit.”

Perez shut out Houston for 7 2-3 innings Monday in a 2-0 victory and Wells (2-3) followed with easily his best start of the season, walking only one after walking at least four in each of his first four games.

“It’s huge for us to have Oliver and Kip throw great games, because pitching is what’s going to carry us,” Jason Bay said.

Bay went 3-for-3 with an RBI single in the first inning and Jack Wilson had a run-scoring triple in the second against Andy Pettitte (1-2), who struggled through six innings by allowing nine hits and walking one. Pettitte was 2-0 against the Pirates a year ago, giving up one run and three hits in 11 innings.

“It was ugly, it was rough and … it could have been a lot worse,” Pettitte said. “But the starting pitchers have got to put zeros on the board until our guys can at least scratch across a run.”

The Pirates lost four of their first seven series and split the other three before beating the Astros twice.

“But I never thought our No. 1 and 2 starters (Perez and Wells) would start 0-5 with a high ERA,” manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Wells (2-3) gave up 15 earned runs in 18 2-3 innings in his first three starts before overcoming wildness to struggle through five innings and beat the Reds 4-2 on April 20. The right-hander worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the first by getting Lane to fly out before settling down to allow only two more hits, retiring 11 in a row at one point.

Wells threw 104 pitches—low by his standards—before giving way to White for a scoreless eighth.

“It was just a matter of throwing strikes and challenging hitters,” Wells said. “When they get the idea, `Hey, he’s throwing strikes,’ they swing earlier in the count.”

Wells won at PNC Park for the first time in 13 starts since the Pirates’ 2004 season opener, a 2-1 decision against the Phillies on April 5. Mesa got the first of his 51 saves with Pittsburgh in that game.

Notes

Jack Wilson had four consecutive hits over two games after ending an 0-for-24 slide. … Bay is 13-for-23 against left-handers. … The Pirates have won 10 of their last 14 at home against Houston. … Alex Rodriguez’s 10 RBIs Tuesday night for the Yankees were only two fewer than the Pirates had in their previous four games combined. … The Pirates have won four of five overall but are 3-6 at home. … Pittsburgh has a major league-low 10 homers in 20 games. … Pettitte lost for only the ninth time in his last 33 decisions.

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