Astros 5, Mets 2

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HOUSTON (AP)—No matter whether they are playing small ball or hitting the long ball, starting a future Hall of Famer or back-to-back rookies, nothing can slow the Houston Astros these days.

Morgan Ensberg, Lance Berkman and Craig Biggio homered, and rookie Wandy Rodriguez had his third straight solid start, leading the Astros past the New York Mets 5-2 Friday night to continue their amazing July run.

Houston won for the 12th time in 13 games and 21st time this month, breaking a club record set in 1976. The Astros also moved into the lead in the NL wild-card race, passing Washington, which lost to Florida, and climbed to a season-best nine games over .500. Another eye-popping stat: This was their 20th win in the last 22 home games.

“It’s been pretty incredible for us lately,” Berkman said.

Houston has won its last two games behind strong outings by Rodriguez (6-4) and fellow rookie Ezequiel Astacio. Before that, Roger Clemens won.

The Astros won on Wednesday and Thursday behind two squeeze plays and no homers. This time, they were trotting around the bases instead of racing home after bunts.

Biggio hit a solo shot off Mets starter Kris Benson (7-4) in the first inning, then Berkman added a two-run homer in the third. After the Mets scored twice to get within a run in the top of the sixth, Ensberg answered with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.

“It’s just fun coming to the park now,” Biggio said. “The fans are pretty pumped up, too.”

While the locals are supporting this team, they’re also making a hobby out of booing departed star Carlos Beltran. Picking up where they left off Thursday night when they rankled him into going 0-for-4, a second straight sellout crowd pestered him at every opportunity. Beltran handled it better this time, going 1-for-3 with a walk, a stolen base and scoring the Mets’ first run.

“I can’t let it affect my play,” he said. “I tried to look at it a different way. When they booed me, I tried to think they do it because they care about me. I tried to make it positive and not a negative.”

After Astacio shut out the Mets over his last five innings Thursday night, Rodriguez opened this game with five more scoreless frames. He walked Beltran and Cliff Floyd to open the sixth and both scored, Beltran on a sacrifice fly by David Wright, then Mike Piazza singling home Floyd.

Rodriguez gave up two runs and four hits in six innings, striking out three and walking two. Astros starters have given up no more than two runs in nine of their last 10 starts—and have Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte starting the next two games.

Brad Lidge struck out two in the ninth for his 25th save in 28 chances.

“Our pitching has been good,” Houston manager Phil Garner said. “You can’t say that enough.”

Benson came in with an 0-5 record and an 8.03 ERA in seven starts at Minute Maid Park, all while on the Pirates. He was hoping things would be different now that he’s with the Mets.

Biggio let him know they wouldn’t by driving one of Benson’s first pitches into the left-field seats. He allowed five runs in 5 1-3 innings, his worst outing since May 10.

“My fastball location was terrible,” Benson said. “As hot as their team is, you’ve got to make your pitches and I didn’t.”

New York fell to 1-4 on its road trip and made the kind of mistakes teams can’t afford when trying to stay in the playoff chase.

Piazza guessed right by calling a pitchout with speedy rookie Willy Taveras on first base, but apparently had trouble gripping the ball because he never even threw it. Taveras ended up scoring on Berkman’s homer.

In the seventh, Jose Reyes must have thought he had fouled off a two-strike pitch, causing it to go to the backstop, because he never ran to first base, even though plate umpire Andy Fletcher was motioning that there was a play there. Reyes stared at Fletcher instead of running, giving Astros catcher Humberto Quintero plenty of time to chase the ball and make the throw.

“I like to think our players are tough-minded. But sometimes you don’t get the breaks and your execution breaks down,” manager Willie Randolph said. “If you let the frustration of that get to you, then you won’t be successful. … We’ve taken a step back. We’ve got to get going again.”


Benson had allowed only 11 homers in 16 games. … Anti-Beltran sign of the night: “We Miss You Beltran” with the guy next to him holding up a banner that read, “He’s Lying.” … Longtime Astros play-by-play man Milo Hamilton announced he will work only home games starting next season. The 77-year-old Hamilton has been calling games since 1950 and is in his 21st season in Houston.

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