Houston ends longest losing streak in three years

HOUSTON (AP) -- Kerry Wood just can't shake the pain in his shoulder.

The Chicago Cubs ace left another start early and Jeff Bagwell
had three hits to help the Houston Astros end their longest losing streak in nearly three years with a 7-5 victory Saturday night.

"I felt great the first two innings. The second inning was the best I've thrown the ball this year, but in the third it just kind of crept up on me," Wood said.

He departed after only three innings because of tendinitis in his right shoulder, the same problem that cut short his previous start last Sunday. He will be examined by a doctor Monday in Chicago.

"It was the first time that I felt uncomfortable all night. I will know more Monday, but in my mind it is just tendinitis," Wood said. "It's hard to say whether or not I should shut it down for a couple of weeks."

Wood, also slowed by shoulder trouble during spring training, was pulled for a pinch-hitter after giving up three runs and four hits. He struck out six and walked two.

"He didn't complain at all. He had warmed up great, but he just didn't look right even though he had good velocity," Chicago manager Dusty Baker said. "We thought that it was best to take him out when we did."

Brandon Backe (2-1) pitched seven innings for the win and Brad Ausmus hit a two-run single for the Astros. Houston snapped a six-game losing streak, its longest since May 19-25, 2002.

"Brandon used a different way of pitching tonight," Houston manager Phil Garner said. "He threw a nice, soft sinker."

Backe gave up four runs and six hits, including pinch-hitter Jason Dubois' two-run homer. He struck out eight and walked two.

"I'm still learning how to pitch. Tonight I took something off of the sinker. I just laid it out there and tried to get ahead," Backe said. "After I gave up the home run I had to regroup."

Cliff Bartosh (0-1) was the loser. He allowed one run and two hits in two innings of relief.

Willy Taveras gave Houston a 4-3 lead in the fourth inning when he doubled in Ausmus.

Houston increased its lead to 7-3 in the seventh when Bagwell walked and moved to third on a double by Mike Lamb. After an intentional walk to Jose Vizcaino, Bagwell scored on Jason Lane's
groundout. Ausmus drove in Lamb and Vizcaino with a bases-loaded single.

The Cubs cut the deficit to 7-5 in the eighth on an RBI single by Derrek Lee and a sacrifice fly by Jeromy Burnitz.

In the second inning, Taveras easily threw out Burnitz at the plate when he attempted to score from second on a single by Michael Barrett.

"I just charged the ball hard and tried to be quick to save a run," Taveras said. "I've never done that in two straight games before."

It was the second consecutive game in which Taveras has thrown out a runner at the plate.

"I thought that play at the plate by Willy changed the complexion of the game. You don't see that happen two games in a row, and especially here with that big center field," Garner said.

Houston took a 3-0 lead in the first. Taveras led off with a walk and scored on a single by Bagwell. Lamb had an RBI triple, and Vizcaino drove in Lamb with a single.

Chicago tied it at 3 in the fourth on Barrett's RBI single and Dubois' homer.

Game notes
Garner celebrated his 56th birthday. ... Houston relievers have allowed only three home runs this season. ... Lee extended his hitting streak to 12 games, tying his career best. ... Dubois' homer was the first by a Cubs pinch-hitter since May 28, 2004, when Barrett connected in Pittsburgh.