<
>

Mesa records save No. 300

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Kip Wells' strong start and Jose Mesa's
milestone-reaching finish made for another nothing day for the
Houston Astros.

Wells allowed four hits over seven innings and Mesa became the
19th pitcher with 300 career saves as the Pittsburgh Pirates won
their first series of the season, beating Houston 2-0 Wednesday for
the Astros' fifth consecutive loss.

The Astros didn't score in either game of the weather-shortened
two-game series and have been shut out in three of their last four.
Their scoreless streak stands at 21 innings. They also are a major
league-worst 1-10 on the road -- their worst start since they were
0-13 in 1969.

Mesa pitched the ninth to become the third Latin American
pitcher with 300 saves, joining Mariano Rivera and Roberto
Hernandez. Mesa, who turns 39 next month, has 51 saves in 55
chances with Pittsburgh after his closer's career looked to be over
when the Phillies took the job away from him in 2003.

Mesa has saved each of the Pirates' eight victories, the first
time a major league reliever has done so. Previously, no pitcher
had saved more than five consecutive wins to start a season.

"They gave me a chance over here and I wanted to show them I
still could pitch," Mesa said. "I was a little nervous today
because, to me, saving 300 games is like winning 300 games is for a
starting pitcher."

Wells, Rick White and Mesa combined to extend the Astros' string
of scoreless innings to 22. Houston's 0-5 road trip included
defeats to some of the NL's top starters, including the Cardinals'
Mark Mulder, who shut them out for 10 innings Saturday, and Matt
Morris and the Pirates' Oliver Perez.

"I don't know if you can pitch any tougher than some of the
guys we've faced," Jason Lane said after the Astros managed only
nine hits in the series. "We're not getting a whole lot of
chances, and when we are, we're not getting the hit."

Perez shut out Houston for 7 2-3 innings Monday in a 2-0 victory
and Wells (2-3) followed with easily his best start of the season,
walking only one after walking at least four in each of his first
four games.

"It's huge for us to have Oliver and Kip throw great games,
because pitching is what's going to carry us," Jason Bay said.

Bay went 3-for-3 with an RBI single in the first inning and Jack
Wilson had a run-scoring triple in the second against Andy Pettitte
(1-2), who struggled through six innings by allowing nine hits and
walking one. Pettitte was 2-0 against the Pirates a year ago,
giving up one run and three hits in 11 innings.

"It was ugly, it was rough and ... it could have been a lot
worse," Pettitte said. "But the starting pitchers have got to put
zeros on the board until our guys can at least scratch across a
run."

The Pirates lost four of their first seven series and split the
other three before beating the Astros twice.

"But I never thought our No. 1 and 2 starters (Perez and Wells)
would start 0-5 with a high ERA," manager Lloyd McClendon said.

Wells (2-3) gave up 15 earned runs in 18 2/3 innings in his
first three starts before overcoming wildness to struggle through
five innings and beat the Reds 4-2 on April 20. The right-hander
worked out of a two-on, two-out jam in the first by getting Lane to
fly out before settling down to allow only two more hits, retiring
11 in a row at one point.

Wells threw 104 pitches -- low by his standards -- before giving
way to White for a scoreless eighth.

"It was just a matter of throwing strikes and challenging
hitters," Wells said. "When they get the idea, `Hey, he's
throwing strikes,' they swing earlier in the count."

Wells won at PNC Park for the first time in 13 starts since the
Pirates' 2004 season opener, a 2-1 decision against the Phillies on
April 5. Mesa got the first of his 51 saves with Pittsburgh in that
game.

Game notes
Jack Wilson had four consecutive hits over two games after
ending an 0-for-24 slide. ... Bay is 13-for-23 against
left-handers. ... The Pirates have won 10 of their last 14 at home
against Houston. ... Alex Rodriguez's 10 RBI Tuesday night for the
Yankees were only two fewer than the Pirates had in their previous
four games combined. ... The Pirates have won four of five overall
but are 3-6 at home. ... Pittsburgh has a major league-low 10
homers in 20 games. ... Pettitte lost for only the ninth time in
his last 33 decisions.