<
>

Nieve, Astros send Braves to 10th loss in 12 games

HOUSTON (AP) -- Houston Astros rookie starter Fernando Nieve
quickly forgot about his only mistake against the Atlanta Braves on
Friday night.

Nieve shut down Atlanta after a shaky first inning, striking out
a career-high nine in the Astros' 7-2 victory.

Atlanta mustered only two hits off Nieve after Andruw Jones'
two-run homer in the first inning.

"I tried to forget the hit and start working again," Nieve
said. "I was so happy we were able to win."

Nieve (2-3) allowed five hits in 7 1/3 innings, the second
strong start by an Astros' rookie this week. On Wednesday, Chris
Sampson threw seven innings in Houston's 1-0 win over the Chicago
Cubs.

This time, the Astros provided run support to match the
pitching.

Mike Lamb homered for the second straight game and Craig Biggio
also homered for Houston, which has won four straight since five
consecutive losses. Preston Wilson added a two-run double during
Houston's four-run fifth.

"The biggest momentum starts with your pitcher," Wilson said,
"but when you get some big at-bats in a row, guys start feeling
like their pitcher is getting a little vulnerable."

Braves starter Jorge Sosa (1-8) lasted only 4 2/3 innings as
Atlanta lost for the 10th time in 12 games.

Nieve's nine strikeouts were the most by a Houston rookie since
Carlos Hernandez had that many against the Los Angeles Dodgers in
September 2002.

"My location was very good, my slider was good," Nieve said.
"My fastball, the speed was up, and that made my slider work
better."

Chad Qualls finished the eighth for Nieve and Russ Springer
pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save.

The Braves' big-hitting Joneses -- Chipper and Andruw -- jumped on
Nieve in the first inning for a quick 2-0 lead. Chipper singled
sharply to center before Andruw hammered the first pitch he saw to
the railroad tracks in left field.

The Astros answered immediately, though, on solo homers by
Biggio and Lamb, who was batting second for the first time this
season.

The 40-year-old Biggio lined his sixth homer of the season into
the left-field seats, his 47th career leadoff homer. Biggio leads
the National League in the category and trails only Rickey
Henderson, who hit 80, on the all-time list.

Lamb, a backup first baseman who homered in Thursday's 7-4 win
over the Braves, followed Biggio with a towering shot to the upper
deck in right field, the first back-to-back homers for Houston this
year.

Lamb said he was only taking advantage of batting in front of
Lance Berkman, who leads the team with 18 homers.

"Having a hitter behind you of that caliber makes the pitcher
throw a lot of strikes," Lamb said. "It's not about the 2 hole,
it's about hitting before him."

The Braves mustered only two hits off Nieve after Jones' home
run.

"It's awfully deflating, you come out and jump on top, and four
pitches later, it's 2-2," Chipper Jones said. "We're not doing a
good job of shutting people down after we score.

"Something has to change here pretty soon."

Lamb hit Sosa hard again in the third, sending the first pitch
off the wall in left, only a few feet from another home run.

"I knew I hit pretty good, it's just quirky out there," Lamb
said. "I guess it was just bad aim. If I was any good, I would've
known my field and hit it a little to the left."

Berkman left Lamb stranded, grounding out. But Sosa couldn't
escape more trouble in the fifth.

With one out, Biggio singled, Lamb beat out a slow grounder and
Berkman walked to load the bases. Morgan Ensberg then flied out
deep to the left-field corner and Biggio scored easily.

Wilson, batting .373 in Houston's last 14 games, then ripped a
double down the left-field line, scoring Lamb and Berkman for a 5-2
lead. Wilson came home on Chris Burke's single to left that knocked
out Sosa.

"The offensive production was very good," Houston manager Phil
Garner said. "We had people up and down the board that did a nice
job."

Adam Everett scored on Berkman's bases loaded groundout in the
sixth for a 7-2 lead.

Brian McCann led off the Braves' eighth with a single to left,
Atlanta's first hit since McCann opened the fifth with a single.
Ryan Langerhans followed with a walk, Nieve's first of the game.

Pinch-hitter Wilson Betemit grounded out, but that was it for
Nieve, who walked off to a standing ovation.

Game notes
Biggio's 266th career homer left him two behind Joe Morgan,
who's fourth on the all-time list for second basemen. ... McCann,
playing for the first time since spraining his left ankle on May
20, went 3-for-3. ... The Astros have won four straight for the
first time since April 14-18. ... Houston's starters have a 1.32
ERA during the current winning streak. ... Garner said Ensberg is
"day to day" after bruising his shoulder diving for a foul ball.