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Quintero ignites offense; Backe does the rest

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Houston Astros have been waiting for a
game like this. The Pittsburgh Pirates are seeing too many just
like them.

Humberto Quintero's three-run double in the fourth inning ended
Houston's season-long scoreless streak in Pittsburgh and Brandon
Backe limited the Pirates to a run over six innings, leading the
Astros to an 11-1 victory Monday night.

"That's more like it," said manager Phil Garner, whose team
was held to five runs while being swept in a three-game weekend
series in St. Louis.

The Astros were streaking going into the All-Star break with 29
victories in 42 games. Backe (8-6) got them back to within a game
of .500 with his pitching and hitting, the latest in a string of
opposing pitchers to hurt the Pirates not just on the mound but at
the plate.

Backe followed Quintero's three-run double off Dave Williams
(7-7) with an RBI triple in the four-run fourth, which came after
the Astros had none on and two outs. Backe also doubled the inning
before and now has four extra-base hits, six RBI and a .294
average. Quintero finished with four RBI after starting the game
1-for-16.

The Pirates fell to a season-low 12 games under .500 with their
22nd loss in 32 games. As the Pirates have dropped five of their
last six, opposing pitchers have accounted for eight runs with six
RBI and two runs scored, while the Pirates have scored just nine
runs.

"I don't know if it's the low point of the season or not,"
manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We've played some bad games and
rebounded and I suspect we will again. I'm not going to blow this
out of perspective."

It would help if they could get the opposing starting pitcher
out -- not just out of game early, but out at the plate. Cubs
starting pitchers were 5-for-12 with five RBI as the Pirates lost
three of four in Wrigley Field over the weekend.

"It was the same thing in Chicago, the bottom of the order hurt
us," McClendon said. "Dave Williams is cruising along and the
next thing you know they've got five hits and four runs."

The Astros were shut down for three innings by Williams to run
their scoreless streak in PNC Park this season to 21 innings. But
Jason Lane, Adam Everett and Chris Burke singled in succession
ahead of Quintero's double that fell in front of left fielder Jason
Bay, ending the catcher's 0-for-13 streak.

"I've been trying to hit the ball to right field, now I've got
to work on that," the right handed-hitting Quintero said. "But he
threw me a changeup and it went into left field."

Quintero was activated off the 15-day disabled list Saturday
after being out following an appendectomy. He hadn't had an extra
base hit since having two homers and three doubles with the Padres
last season.

Lane and Lance Berkman also had three-hit games, with Berkman
driving in two runs, as the Astros had 17 hits, one short of their
season high.

The Pirates were held to a run after loading the bases with none
out in the first, only to be checked by Backe on two hits over the
next five innings. He withstood six walks to win for just the
second time in seven starts, striking out six and allowing three
hits.

"I was satisfied even though I walked some guys -- it was an OK
outing," Backe said. "I've got some things to work on but I can
also be happy about some things I did tonight."

It probably helped that two key hitters in the middle of the
Pirates' order are slumping badly. NL All-Star Bay went 0-for-2 and
is in a 2-for-33 slide and first baseman Daryle Ward went an 11th
straight game without an RBI. Ward has a team-high 52 RBI, but
hasn't had an RBI since July 3 or a home run since June 7, a span
of 34 games.

Williams, pitching for the first time since beating the Mets
11-4 on July 9, lasted five-plus innings, allowing 10 hits and five
runs -- four earned.

Game notes
The Astros were shut out 2-0 in successive games in
Pittsburgh April 25 and 27 in what became a two-game series due to
a rainout. ... Faces in the crowd: Arnold Palmer and Dallas
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a Pittsburgh native who also watched
the Pirates-Cubs game Friday in Wrigley Field. Cuban said then he'd
be interested in buying the Pirates if the team ever came on the
market and doing so would keep them in Pittsburgh. Cuban declined
Monday to talk about those remarks. ... Despite the weekend sweep
by St. Louis, the Astros have won eight of 12. ... The Astros are
2-4 against Pittsburgh. ... Ward is hitless in 22 at-bats.