<
>

Ensberg sparks Houston offense

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Some reward for Astros rookie Ezequiel
Astacio: He finally won in the majors, then promptly was rewarded
with a trip back to the minors.

Astacio limited Pittsburgh to two runs over six innings for his
first major-league victory, and Morgan Ensberg keyed a pair of
Houston scoring innings in an 9-3 victory over the Pirates in a
doubleheader opener Tuesday night.

Astacio (1-4) needed six starts and eight appearances to finally
win, overcoming a succession of rough starts to hold the Pirates to
five hits -- four singles. The only extra-base hit was Ryan Doumit's
first career homer, a solo shot in the fifth. Doumit added his
second homer in the eighth, off Russ Springer, a drive to right
estimated at 456 feet.

Doumit's first homer was the 13th off Astacio in 30 2/3 innings
and the ninth in four starts -- an indication why Astacio came into
the game with an 0-4 record and 9.47 ERA. He was optioned to
Triple-A Round Rock when the game ended to clear a roster spot so
Wandy Rodriguez could start the second game.

"We're very happy to see him throw like that," manager Phil
Garner said. "It's a shame we have to make a move like we did to
send him out, but at least he goes down with a game ball and a win.
To me, he's improving tremendously. ... Each time we see him, he's
improving. Sometime along the line, he's going to be here for
good.'"'

Ensberg's RBI single followed Lance Berkman's double in the
first off rookie Ian Snell (0-1), and Ensberg had his team-high
69th RBI of the season with a triple in the third after Berkman's
leadoff double.

Willy Taveras added a two-run double in the second for the
Astros, who took a 5-0 lead in the third against Snell -- also
trying for his first career victory.

The Astros, held to five runs and 20 hits during a three-game
sweep by St. Louis last weekend, have outscored the Pirates 20-4 in
the first two games of a four-game series that likely will played
in less than 48 hours. The teams follow up Tuesday's doubleheader
with a day game Wednesday.

Houston, which dropped four of its first five to Pittsburgh
earlier this season, won its ninth in 13 games to get back to .500.
The Astros (46-46) are 31-16 since starting the season 15-30.

The Pirates have been outscored 50-12 while losing six of seven,
and are 1-5 since the All-Star break to fall a season-low 13 games
below .500. In this game, they were almost as bad defensively at
they were at the plate, with three run-scoring infield errors just
in the final two innings.

"A loss is a loss," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "We're in a
rut right now, and we've got to fight and get out of it."

Snell was one of the top pitchers in the minors before his June
26 recall, pitching a no-hitter while going 9-2 with a 4.06 ERA at
Triple-A Indianapolis. But his second career start was much like
his first on Sept. 29 last season, an 8-4 loss to the Phillies: Bad
at the start, and not much better after that.

"It looks like he has good stuff," Garner said. "He just got
it over the plate."

Four of the first six Astros batters had hits, with Orlando
Palmeiro starting the two-run second with a double. Just before
Brad Ausmus grounded into a double play that ended the Astros'
third, Snell had more hits allowed (eight) than retired batters
(seven).

"He elevated the ball, he pitched behind," McClendon said. "I
thought he would perform better than that. It was a just a bad
outing."

Palmeiro had three of the Astros' 14 hits, a night after they
had 17 hits, one short of their season high.

Game notes
Snell has an 11.70 ERA in his two career starts. ...
Pirates SS Jack Wilson and 3B Bobby Hill each had a run-scoring
error during Houston's three-run eighth, and RHP Salomon Torres had
one in the ninth. ... Astacio's single in the fourth was the eighth
hit by an opposing pitcher in Pittsburgh's last six games. ... Four
relievers followed Astacio. ... Wilson went 0-for-3, playing less
than five hours after his wife gave birth to their second child.