Pirates 3, Astros 1, 1st game

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—A pitcher needs to be nearly flawless to have a chance of beating the Houston Astros these days. Oliver Perez was that and more.

Perez ended the Astros’ 12-game winning streak with the most dominating start of his short career, striking out 14 in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3-1 victory Thursday in the first game of a doubleheader.

“It’s the best game of my career,” said Perez, who started against Houston only because the Pirates were rained out Wednesday against Milwaukee. “When I found out (he would oppose Houston), I said, `That’s fine.’ “

The Astros had scored at least five runs in each game of a winning streak that matched the franchise high and was the longest in the NL since Atlanta won 15 in a row in 2000. Houston, which averaged nine runs during its streak, began the day with a slim lead in the NL wild-card race.

Perez (10-8) allowed three hits, an unearned run and walked one over eight innings in joining Bob Veale as only the pitchers in the Pirates’ 118-season history to strike out 200 in a season. After his career-high 14 Thursday, Perez has 212. Veale struck out 200 or more four times, last doing so in 1969.

The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Perez isn’t as physically intimidating as the 6-foot-6, 260-pound Veale was, but threw his slider for strikes and had excellent movement on a fastball that seemed to get tougher to hit with each passing inning.

“The story on him right now is it takes a couple of innings to find his rhythm and his arm slot, and by the third he started cruising,” Astros manager Phil Garner said.

Perez leads the majors by averaging 11 strikeouts and has nine double-digit strikeout games this season. But this was his most impressive outing, considering the Astros’ streak and the fact the left-hander was coming off an 8-6 loss Friday to Roger Clemens and the Astros in which he allowed four homers.

“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, as 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. 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.

“He wasn’t going back out there,” manager Lloyd McClendon said. “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.”

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

The Pirates had lost five of six and 21 of 27 before a pair of rookies got key hits against Carlos Hernandez (1-2), who gave up five hits and walked four in 5 2-3 innings.

Hernandez’s wildness hurt him in the first when a walk and a hit batter led to Tony Alvarez’s two-out RBI single.

Jose Castillo doubled leading off the fourth for the second of his three hits, then scored a batter later on Jason Kendall’s sacrifice fly.

Ty Wigginton added a run-scoring single in the seventh off Chad Harville.

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 hasn’t been shut out since a 5-0 loss to Seattle on June 7. … Perez, acquired with Jason Bay from San Diego in the Brian Giles trade last year, remains under .500 for his career (18-23), mostly because he was 4-10 with the Padres in 2003. … Houston is 10-3 against Pittsburgh. … The Astros’ winning streak tied an earlier Tampa Bay 12-game run as the majors’ longest this season. … Houston had won 10 of 11 road games. The Astros began a stretch of 14 road games in a 17-game span. … Castillo is 35-of-89 over his last 28 games. … Perez is fourth in the NL in strikeouts.

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