<
>

Maddux outduels Pettitte as Cubs beat Astros

HOUSTON (AP) -- Facing Greg Maddux, another reliable outing
wasn't good enough for Andy Pettitte.

Maddux outdueled Pettitte for seven innings, and Aramis Ramirez
homered and doubled twice to help the Chicago Cubs snap a six-game
road losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Houston Astros on
Tuesday night.

Maddux (10-9) allowed just three hits -- his fewest since May 10
-- and shut down the Astros after Houston scored 12 runs on 16 hits
the previous night.

Pettitte (10-9) pitched about as well as he did in his previous
eight outings, when he went 6-1. But against Maddux, the few
mistakes Pettitte made -- particularly three pitches to Ramirez --
proved costly.

Not that Maddux said he had it any easier.

"When you face somebody as good as him you really got to try
harder," said Maddux, who allowed his fewest runs since pitching
eight scoreless innings July 10. "I think mentally you burn out
quicker than you normally do."

Kerry Wood pitched a perfect eighth for his sixth scoreless
relief appearance, and Ryan Dempster worked the ninth for his 17th
save in 19 chances.

With the win, the Cubs pulled within 6½ games of Houston in the
NL wild-card race.

Ramirez was 3-for-4 with two RBI, his last a high-arching solo
homer to left in sixth. It was the 30th home run of the season for
Ramirez, who continued to feast on left-handers. Ramirez is hitting
.353 against left-handers, with 11 doubles and nine homers.

"I couldn't have thrown him three worse pitches," Pettitte
said. "All three were just terrible. He must have thought I was
Santa Claus after throwing those pitches. It was just sickening,
especially the homer."

It was just the second loss since June for Pettitte, who allowed
eight hits and tied his season high with eight strikeouts.

After Chad Qualls relieved Pettitte in the eighth, the Cubs
tacked on another run when Nomar Garciaparra scored from third on
Corey Patterson's bloop single.

The Astros started the night where they left off Monday. Rookie
Willy Taveras dropped a triple into deep right field on Maddux's
first pitch, then scored one batter later when Craig Biggio
grounded to shortstop.

But the four-time Cy Young winner quickly settled down.

Adam Everett doubled in the second, and Taveras beat out a short
chopper in the third. Maddux then walked Lance Berkman two batter
later, but it would be the last baserunner the 39-year-old pitcher
allowed.

"He didn't look as dominant as I've seen him in the past,"
Astros manager Phil Garner said. "He didn't use a lot of breaking
balls or off-speed stuff, he just used his fastball. But we didn't
strike it."

For Wood, the former starter continued his smooth transition to
the bullpen. Wood has pitched seven scoreless innings in his six
relief appearances, allowing just one hit and striking out 12.

Wood went on the disabled list on July 21 with shoulder
inflammation and has been used as a reliever since his return.
Manager Dusty Baker said Wood will stay in the bullpen for the rest
of the season.

Wood has had success despite mostly eliminating his changeup and
curveball from his options as a reliever. He said he instead relies
on fastballs and sliders now.

"The mental part is easy," Wood said of his new role. "Just
go in and get guys out."

Houston was shut out in consecutive games before opening the
series Monday night with a 12-4 victory over the Cubs.

Game notes
The Cubs have homered in their last eight games. ... With
the victory, Maddux has won at least 10 games for 18 straight
seasons. ... The Astros took issue with umpire's Larry Vanover's
strike zone throughout the game. Catcher Brad Ausmus argued a
called third strike in the second inning and Morgan Ensberg did the
same in the sixth. Garner came onto the field both times. ...
Houston fell to 0-51 when trailing after eight innings.