LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Andy Pettitte faced off against former AL
East rival Derek Lowe in another memorable pitcher's duel. Only
this time, they met in the serene setting of Dodger Stadium, not
the frenzied atmosphere of Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park.
Pettitte outdueled Lowe with eight stellar innings, and Craig
Biggio hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth to lead the Houston
Astros over Los Angeles 2-1 Friday night.
Pettitte and Lowe were integral components of the New York
Yankees-Red Sox rivalry in recent years, but this matchup had far
less drama with the Dodgers starting the day 6½ games out in the NL
West and the Astros fighting for a wild-card berth.
"I faced him a number of times when he was in Boston, so I know
he's a great pitcher and I knew he was going to be tough,"
Pettitte said. "He had it going tonight, also."
Pettitte and Lowe started against each other for the fourth
time, including Game 2 of the 2003 AL championship series, when
Pettitte's Yankees beat Lowe's Red Sox 6-2 at New York. They split
their other two regular-season matchups, with Pettitte winning 3-1
at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 4, 2002, and Lowe winning 4-3 at Fenway
Park on April 15, 2002.
"I wasn't thinking about that," said Houston ace Roger
Clemens, Pettitte's former Yankees teammate. "It's just good to
see Andy going strong. And he had just enough tonight, which was
good to see."
Pettitte (12-9) allowed one run and six hits while striking out
seven and walking one. Pitching a year and two days after elbow
surgery that ended his first season with the Astros, he lowered his
ERA to 2.60, the best in the majors among left-handers.
"It was not a reconstruction on the elbow, so I thought he'd
come back from it and pitch well this year, so I'm not surprised,"
Astros manager Phil Garner said. "What surprises me is that his
control had been is as good as it has been. Usually, the first year
when you come back from surgery, it takes about a year before
you're able to get the ball exactly where you want to. But he's
done a pretty good job of locating pitches."
Lowe (8-13) allowed two runs and seven hits in eight innings
with five strikeouts and two walks. The right-hander, who has one
more loss that he had last season with the World Series champion
Red Sox, matched Pettitte step for step until Biggio hit his 18th
homer into the lower seats in the left-field corner on an 0-1
changeup with one out in the eighth.
"It was a good pitcher's duel, but it would have been tough to
waste that pitching performance by Andy," said Biggio, whose homer
was only his second on the road. "The biggest thing with Andy was
getting his velocity back. Everybody in here knew that once he did,
you're going to see what you saw before. When he's throwing that
cutter at 83-84-85 miles an hour last year and getting away with it
then, you could only imagine what it was going to be like when he
started getting it up to 90-91."
Pettitte took a 1-0 lead into the seventh before Olmedo Saenz
led off with a drive into the pavilion seats in right-center on a
2-0 pitch for his 13th homer -- two more than his previous career
high with Oakland in 1999.
"I knew Saenz was a real good hitter and he's got some serious
power," Pettitte said. "I was just extremely frustrated after he
hit that ball out because I thought it was real good pitch -- a
two-seamer down and away. I fell behind, he probably knew I was
going away with it, and he squared it up good."
Brad Lidge got his 31st save in 34 chances and 15th straight,
striking out three in the ninth -- including pinch-hitter Ricky
Ledee with runners at first and second.
The Astros were held to fewer than three runs for the eighth
time in 13 games and stranded two runners at third base. But they
still managed to send Los Angeles to its fifth loss in six games
and fourth straight against Houston. The Dodgers a season-worst 14
games under .500 (57-71).
After striking out the side on 12 pitches in the first, Pettitte
gave up two one-out singles in the second. But first baseman Mike
Lamb went to his right to make a diving catch of Mike Edwards' line
drive and doubled up Jason Phillips at second with a one-hop throw
while still on his knees.
"It was a fun game to pitch in," Lowe said. "You could see it
early when he struck out the side in the first that Andy had his
Houston's starting rotation leads the majors with a 3.47 ERA.
The Astros began Friday with three of the top six in the NL:
Pettitte, Roy Oswalt (2.68) and Clemens (1.56), who leads the
majors with a 1.56 mark. All three are pitching in this series.<
"When you face the likes of Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt and Roger
Clemens, your guy has to be equal to the task," Dodgers manager
Jim Tracy said. "Derek Lowe was that, and then some."
The Astros, who swept a three-game series from the Dodgers
last month in Houston, have given up the fewest runs in the majors.
... Pettitte is 9-2 in his last 13 starts.