Pettitte allowed a run over eight innings to win his sixth straight start, 4-1 Thursday night to put the Houston Astros back in the NL wild-card lead.
After missing the Astros’ postseason run last year because of elbow surgery, and watching them fall one victory short of their first NL pennant, Pettitte wants to do his part this year.
“It was a big series obviously. All the starts are big right now,” Pettitte said. “I want to win, I want to try to get it done after last year.”
He also had his good friend Roger Clemens on his mind. And Clemens, surprisingly, was there to watch him pitch.
The night before, the Rocket beat the Marlins, starting on the day his mother passed away. That ended a three-game losing streak for the Astros, including the first two games against the Marlins.
The Astros (78-68) took a half-game lead over Florida and Philadelphia, which lost to Atlanta, in the wild-card race. Houston and Florida split their four-game series, the last games against each other this season.
Pettitte (16-9) scattered five hits and struck out five. Aside from Miguel Cabrera’s 32nd homer leading off the seventh, the left-hander allowed five baserunners, three of whom were erased by double-play grounders.
“Two really brilliant performances,” Astros manager Phil Garner said.
“Against Clemens and Pettitte, there’s no way you can expect to sweep a series,” Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. “Maybe the Cardinals can, but nobody else.”
Florida went 6-5 on its road trip and goes home for a series against the Phillies in the same spot it left—a half-game back in the wild-card race. Houston remains home to play Milwaukee.
“It would have been nice to get a little bit of separation, but we ran into two of the best pitchers in the big leagues,” Marlins left fielder Jeff Conine said. “It was usual Pettitte. He showed us different looks in every at-bat.”
Pettitte is 13-2 with a 1.50 ERA since June 20—the most wins and best ERA in the major leagues during that span.
Florida rookie Jason Vargas (5-4) went five innings and lost his third straight decision over four starts. He gave up four hits, including the two homers, with four strikeouts and two walks.
“I felt like this was the best I’ve thrown in a long time,” Vargas said. “I just got two balls up, and I got caught with it.”
Brad Lidge threw 12 of 15 pitches for strikes in the ninth, when he struck out the top three hitters in the Marlins lineup for his 37th save in 40 chances.
After Brad Ausmus led off the fifth with his third home run, Pettitte followed with a deep fly ball of his own—that was caught by center fielder Juan Pierre well short of the wall. Craig Biggio then hit his 21st homer into the left-field stands near where Ausmus’ ball had landed for a 3-0 lead.
An inning later, Florida intentionally walked Ausmus with two outs and a runner on to get Pettitte to the plate. He hit another fly to center, shaking his arms in frustration as he jogged toward first base.
“It’d be nice to get a hit every once in a while,” Pettitte said. “But I guess they don’t pay me to do that.”
Houston went ahead to stay with a run in the third inning, when Pettitte hustled to beat out a potential double play before shortstop Damion Easley’s fielding error on Biggio’s grounder. Adam Everett, who had a leadoff single before a stolen base, scored to put the Astros up 1-0.
The Astros extended their lead to 4-1 in the seventh when Biggio had a leadoff single, and scored on a single by Jose Vizcaino. Jim Mecir then relieved Ismael Valdez, getting out of the bases-loaded jam with a popout and a strikeout.
Everett and LF Charles Gipson both went hard to the ground after colliding on a popup in foul territory. Gipson, making his first start in the field, ended up making the catch even though Everett slammed into him about the same time the ball came down. Both were tended to for several minutes, but stayed in the game. … The Marlins have hit into 126 double plays, 16 short of the most in team history. They also hit into three double plays Wednesday.