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Former Yankee winless in last three starts

NEW YORK (AP) -- Andy Pettitte reached back, threw to the plate
and knew something was missing: his velocity.

"I was getting under the radar, under the hitting speed," he
said. "Guys were probably a little shocked."

Pitching across town from the ballpark where he became a star
during nine seasons with the Yankees, he allowed just one run in
his return to New York but didn't make it out of the sixth inning
and failed to get a decision Thursday in the Houston Astros' 2-1
loss to the Mets.

He's pitching with a small tear in a tendon in his left elbow,
an injury sustained while batting in his first start of the season.
He's been on the disabled list twice and had to leave his July 26
outing against Arizona because of elbow soreness.

"Everybody watching realizes I'm not throwing the ball with the
velocity I used to," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out a
way to get some guys out."

After leaving the Yankees last December to sign a $31.5 million,
three-year contract with his hometown Astros, so much was expected
of Pettitte. But the Astros are 56-58, way back in the NL Central
and the wild-card race, and the 32-year-old left-hander isn't sure
whether the elbow will require surgery.

"I don't know, I really don't know," he said. "I'll worry
about all that stuff in the offseason."

Hat pulled low and glove held high, Pettitte was back on the
mound in the city where he started the Yankees' clinching win in
Game 5 of the 2000 World Series. He met some old friends the past
few days and was happy to be back in New York.

"Walking around town and stuff like that, everybody's told me a
lot of nice things," he said.

He was given a mixture of applause and boos when he stepped to
the plate in the third inning, but the reception quickly turned to
all jeers when didn't run out a weak grounder to shortstop.

"My fingers and everything kind of just went numb," he said.
"That ball of the end of the bat just added to what I'm dealing
with out there. It took me a little while to shake it off."

He got just 28 at-bats during his time with the Yankees because
the DH is used in the American League, plus 12 more during World
Series games in NL cities. He said hitting was fun during spring
training this year, but then came the injury when he tried to check
a swing against San Francisco on April 6.

"It hasn't been fun since I blew my elbow out the first game,"
he said. "I'm hoping next year it will be all right."

Winless in three outings since July 21, Pettitte is 6-4 with a
3.90 ERA in just 15 starts. He allowed one run and four hits in 5
2-3 innings against the Mets, walking four, striking out five and
throwing just 55 of 95 pitches for strikes.

"The guy's pitching with, I don't know what the percentage
would be, but certainly less than 100 percent of what his arsenal
is, and he just pitched a brilliant game," Astros manager Phil
Garner said.

With less than 7½ weeks remaining to catch up, Pettitte knows he
probably will have October off.

"I've always gone to the playoffs every year," he said. "It's
definitely a disappointment. We're facing reality here, if we don't
start playing."

David Weathers (6-7), dealt to Houston on June 17 in the deal
that brought Richard Hidalgo to New York, relieved with the bases
loaded in the sixth and retired pinch-hitter Cliff Floyd. But the
Mets went ahead the next inning when Danny Garcia doubled leading
off and scored on Joe McEwing's two-out single.

"I knew he was trying to bury the two-seamer inside with two
strikes and get me to chase," McEwing said. "He caught some of
the plate with it, so I was able to get a good swing on it."

Victor Zambrano (2-0) won his second straight start since the
Mets acquired him from Tampa Bay on July 30, allowing an unearned
run in seven innings. Houston's only hits off him were Jose
Vizcaino's infield single off the glove of a diving David Wright at
third base in the fifth, and Lance Berkman's tying single in the
sixth, a hard drive into right field.

Mike Stanton and Ricky Bottalico combined on a hitless eighth,
and Braden Looper finished the two-hitter for his 23rd save in 26
chances.

Hidalgo singled in the second and scored on Mike Cameron's
double. Berkman's single scored Eric Bruntlett, who reached on
Zambrano's throwing error.

Zambrano improved to 12-1 against NL teams in his career, and
11-7 overall this season. Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson has
helped make small changes to his motion.

"We knew if we could get him throwing strikes, he'd be tough to
beat," manager Art Howe said.

Game notes
When Brad Ausmus caught Gerald Williams trying to steal
second base in the third inning, it ended New York's team-record
streak of 21 straight steals dating to July 19 against Florida. ...
New York's starting lineup was missing C Mike Piazza (inflamed
knee), SS Kaz Matsui (bad back), infielder Jose Reyes (sore left
leg) and Floyd (sore ribs). ... Houston kept 1B Jeff Bagwell, LF
Craig Biggio and 2B Jeff Kent out of its starting lineup.