Pirates' defense produces some gems

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Jeff Suppan overcame a shaky start to pitch
seven innings in his second consecutive strong outing and also hit
a run-scoring double, leading the Pittsburgh Pirates past the
Houston Astros 4-3 Saturday night.

The Pirates overcame the Astros' two-run first inning by scoring
three runs on four straight hits to start their half of the first
against spot starter Kirk Saarloos (2-1), and Suppan took over from

After losing seven of eight against Houston earlier this season,
the Pirates have won two straight in the three-game weekend series.
They also have won three in a row since the Reds beat them Tuesday
and Wednesday with consecutive late-inning comebacks.

Houston has lost eight of 11 to fall one game back of division
leader St. Louis in the NL Central.

Suppan (7-7), who gave up two runs and eight hits, was helped by
some excellent plays by an often inconsistent defense. Shortstop
Jack Wilson made a diving stop of Lance Berkman's grounder and,
while on his stomach, flipped the ball from his glove to second
baseman Jeff Reboulet for a force out to end the Astros' third.

Wilson also made an excellent stop deep in the hole at short to
throw out Richard Hidalgo to strand runners on second and third in
the seventh. Center fielder Kenny Lofton also ranged far to his
right to run down Morgan Ensberg's one-out fly ball in the fifth.

Suppan, coming off a four-hit shutout Sunday of Colorado, saw
his streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings end quickly on
Berkman's two-run double in the first. Suppan didn't allow any more
scoring despite repeatedly being in trouble as the Astros stranded
10 runners in his seven innings -- 11 overall.

Mike Lincoln followed Suppan with a scoreless eighth despite
allowing Orlando Merced's leadoff double. Mike Williams, appearing
for a fourth consecutive day, gave up Geoff Blum's solo homer in
the ninth before finishing for his 24th save in 28 opportunities.

Given the 2-0 lead, Saarloos didn't need long to lose it in his
first start since May 11, with Brian Giles tying it with a two-run
double and Aramis Ramirez following with a go-ahead single. Lofton
and Jason Kendall started the first-inning rally with singles.

Saarloos, who had made 17 straight relief appearances following
two early May starts, settled down to retire 12 of the next 13
hitters. But, with two outs in the fourth, Reboulet and Suppan --
the Pirates' No. 8 and 9 batters -- doubled to make it 4-2.

Suppan is batting .300 with nine hits, but the double was his
first extra-base hit in the majors and it prompted manager Jimy
Williams to lift Saarloos. Relievers Mike Gallo, Ricky Stone and
Brad Lidge combined for 4 1-3 scoreless innings.
^Notes:@ Despite the Reds' two come-from-behind wins, the Pirates
have won six of nine. ... Ramirez had two hits after going
3-for-33. It appeared home plate umpire Lance Barksdale, at
Williams' request, told Ramirez to remove a bulky protective device
on his left elbow in the third. After Pirates manager Lloyd
McClendon intervened, Ramirez was allowed to keep wearing the elbow
guard. Center fielder Craig Biggio then slid on his right knee to
make a catch of Ramirez's long drive to left-center ... Saarloos
has allowed 15 earned runs in his three starts.