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Ausmus' sac fly in 15th helps Astros win eighth straight

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Once the Houston Astros got into the 11th
inning, the 12th, the 13th and later, they didn't need anyone to
tell them they had to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates. They already
knew it from the out-of-town scoreboard that showed the St. Louis Cardinals winning.

The Cardinals finally win thanks to Albert Pujols, but the Astros keep pace. The Mets look terrible in a loss to the Braves. What is Pedro Martinez's postseason status?

• Baseball Today 

Brad Ausmus' sacrifice fly in the 15th inning finished off
Houston's comeback within a comeback as the Astros rallied from
five runs down to beat the Pirates 7-6 on Wednesday night, their
eighth straight win that kept them close to St. Louis in the NL
Central.

"I've complained all year about not being able to get a run in
from third, so I'm going to kiss his lunch for getting that one
in," manager Phil Garner said of Ausmus' game-winner.

The Astros didn't gain any ground for the first time during
their winning streak but, almost as importantly, didn't lose any as
they stayed 1½ games out with four to play. The Cardinals cut their
magic number for winning the division to four by beating San Diego
4-2 on Albert Pujols' homer to end a seven-game losing streak.

"I'm sure everybody saw that, so I've got to applaud these guys
for a great effort and getting results," Garner said. "We have to
plan to win 'em all and still it may be not enough, but the bottom
line is everybody is still playing."

He was right -- most of the Astros knew the Cardinals had won,
yet the tired team persevered to win its fourth game in four nights
in three ballparks. They finished off a four-game sweep of the
Cardinals at home Sunday night, then won a makeup game Monday night
in Philadelphia before winning the first two of a three-game series
in Pittsburgh.

"Seeing the Cardinals win makes it even more crucial for us
going into extra innings, and understanding we move to 2½ out with
only four games left for us if we lose," Ausmus said. "Obviously
it was a crucial win."

Houston, held to one hit over the first five extra innings by
three rookie relievers, finally won it against Jonah Bayliss (1-1)
in the 15th. After Eric Bruntlett walked and Craig Biggio's
sacrifice bunt turned into a fielder's choice, Orlando Palmeiro
singled to center. Ausmus then fought off a two-strike pitch to
lift the fly to center that scored Biggio.

"We had chances to win, but they finally scratched out the run
we had been working to get," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "But
our young relievers, to do the job they did, pitching against a
club playing for its playoff life ... they really grew up
tonight."

Chris Sampson (2-0), the Astros' starter Monday night in
Philadelphia, pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings to win it and run the
Pirates' losing streak -- all against contenders -- to six. Trever
Miller got the final out for the save, his first since 2004 with
Tampa Bay.

The Pirates had a chance to win it in the 11th. Chris Duffy
walked and stole second and, after an out, Freddy Sanchez and Jason
Bay were intentionally walked with two outs to load the bases. Dan
Wheeler, working his third inning, then got Xavier Nady on a slow
roller to third.

In the 12th, Duffy flied out to left to leave the potential
winning run on third. Miller later struck out Duffy to end the
game.

Sanchez, the NL batting leader with a .346 average, went 2-for-5
with an RBI. He has six hits in two games. Nady's two-run single
keyed a three-run fifth that gave the Pirates a 6-1 lead.

The Astros, trying to stage one of the greatest late-season
surges in major league history after being 8½ games out on Sept.
20, then rallied to keep that comeback going. They scored four runs
in the sixth on Lance Berkman's 44th homer, a two-run drive, Mike
Lamb's RBI double and Adam Everett's sacrifice fly, then tied it on
Luke Scott's two-out single off Salomon Torres in the ninth.

Willy Taveras reached on an infield single with one out and
moved into scoring position when Berkman was intentionally walked
ahead of Scott's single.

"We've got to win -- we could care less about anything except
getting wins right now," Biggio said. "It took us a long time,
but we got it and that's all that matters."

Torres, making his major league-leading 92nd appearance, had
been 10-for-10 in save opportunities since replacing the injured
Mike Gonzalez (24-for-24) as the Pirates closer. Torres is 10-of-13
overall.

The Pirates took a 2-0 lead against starter Jason Hirsh on
Sanchez's RBI single in the first and Ryan Doumit's sixth homer, a
solo shot to right with one out in the second. Hirsh couldn't make
it out of the fourth after allowing three runs and six hits.

Game notes
Pittsburgh is two losses short of matching the 95 it had
last season. ... Duffy, the center fielder, also may have prevented
a run when he stretched out on the dirt warning track to run down
Lamb's deep fly ball with a runner on second and one out in the
seventh. ... The Pirates have had 24 NL batting champions, the most
of any team. Honus Wagner won eight and Clemente won four. Bill
Madlock won the last two, in 1981 and 1983. ... The teams played an
18-inning game in PNC Park on May 27, with the Pirates winning 8-7.
... After the game, official scorer Tony Krizmanich changed an
error given pitcher Dan Borkowski on Jack Wilson's slow-rolling
grounder in the three-run fifth to a single.