Astros lefty wins after 23-day absence

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Just as he has during nearly all of his 150
career victories, Andy Pettitte stood at the clubhouse door and
greeted his teammates as they left the field.

Only this was a first: instead of shaking the hands of Bernie
Williams and Derek Jeter, he was embracing Craig Biggio and Jeff
Bagwell. His uniform didn't have Yankees pinstripes, either, but
rather the brick red of his hometown Astros.

Welcome back, Andy Pettitte.

Pettitte came off the disabled list to breeze effortlessly
through the Pirates' lineup, allowing only one hit over six
excellent innings before his bullpen finished Houston's 2-0
decision Thursday over Pittsburgh.

"It's exciting to be able to get my first win as an Astro and,
obviously, it's a nice milestone to get No. 150 in my career,"
Pettitte said. "It's special, but I didn't think it would take
this long to get one."

Pettitte (1-1) hadn't pitched in 23 days because of a strained
left elbow, yet looked just like the pitcher who won 21 games for
New York last season and has averaged nearly 17 victories per

"That's the Andy that everybody knows," teammate Jose Vizcaino

The left-hander quickly settled into a rhythm, something he
didn't do in a 7-5 loss to the Giants on April 6 in his Astros
debut. Raul Mondesi was the lone Pittsburgh player to reach base
against him, drawing a walk in the first and hitting a ground-ball
single up the middle in the third.

"You don't win 20 games because you're lucky," said Mondesi, a
teammate last season in New York. "He's tough when he makes
pitches like he does today. When he's throwing that hard breaking
ball and cutter and staying in the zone, he's real tough."

It was classic Pettitte, with Pirates hitters flailing away at
his assortment of pitches after falling behind in the count. He
struck out three and walked one, and felt he could have gone one
more inning.

After waiting nearly a month to see his $31.5 million pitcher
throw again, manager Jimy Williams wasn't about to take a chance.

"He wasn't laboring and he felt strong, but we took it out of
his hands," Williams said. "It was our game plan and we stayed
with it. It took a few weeks to get him back, and we didn't want to
get too giddy."

The Pirates' batting order hardly resembles the Giants' lineup
that worked over Pettitte for 11 hits and six runs in his only
other start, yet the Astros couldn't have asked for more in
Pettitte's return.

No doubt helped by the comfortable 74-degree gametime
temperature that was more like Houston in late April than
Pittsburgh, he showed no visible discomfort from the elbow problem.
The Pirates had only two fly ball outs in the first five innings
and advanced only one runner as far as second against Pettitte, who
threw 50 of his 74 pitches for strikes.

"After missing as much time as I did, to go six innings was
good," Pettitte said. "There's no sense pushing it, especially
with the great bullpen we've got."

Dan Miceli, Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel followed Pettitte with
a scoreless inning each to complete a two-hit shutout. Dotel struck
out the side in the ninth for his third save in as many chances.

The only other Pirates hit was pinch-hitter Bobby Hill's single
in the eighth off Lidge.

Pirates starter Kip Wells, a Houston native like Pettitte,
matched Pettitte during six shutout innings, only to quickly get
into trouble in what became a two-run seventh.

Lance Berkman singled, Richard Hidalgo doubled into the
left-center gap and Mike Lamb coaxed a walk, loading the bases.
That allowed Brad Ausmus to drive in the go-ahead run with a
sacrifice fly, just after Wells thought he struck out him out on a
2-2 pitch.

With a chance to break the game open and Pettitte nearly at his
pitch limit, Williams pulled Pettitte for pinch-hitter Vizcaino,
who singled against reliever John Grabow to make it 2-0.

That's was all the Astros got, but it was enough to make a loser
of Wells (2-3), who gave up five hits and two runs, striking out
five and walking one in 6 1-3 innings. He has given up more than
two runs only once in five starts.

That's the kind of pitching the Astros expect from Pettitte, who
acknowledges glancing at TV occasionally to see how the Yankees are

"I can't say I've been following the box scores ... but they've
got a great team and a lot of talent. I promise you they'll be
there at the end."

For now, Pettitte is glad to have finally made a good start for
his new team.

"Obviously, it was a good day," he said.

Game notes
The Pirates went 2-6 on a weather-abbreviated homestand
against the NL Central rival Cubs, Reds and Astros. ... Houston had
dropped five of its previous six in Pittsburgh. ... Wells has a
2.08 ERA in his last 12 starts, dating to Aug. 27, yet is only 7-5.
... The Pirates' Tike Redman is in a 1-for-16 slump. ... Bagwell
was 1-for-13 until he doubled in the first. .. Houston has scored
an NL-best 45 runs from the seventh inning on. ... Pettitte lowered
his ERA from 10.13 to 4.76. His next start will also be against
Pittsburgh, Tuesday in Houston.