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Astros dominate Reds, stay in striking distance of Phillies

HOUSTON (AP) -- Andy Pettitte thinks he is pitching better than
ever before.

Pettitte allowed four hits in seven innings, striking out four
and walking only one to lead the Houston Astros over the Cincinnati
Reds 10-0 on Wednesday night.

Pettitte (13-9) improved to 10-2 in 14 starts since June 20. The
left-hander lowered his ERA to 2.50, tied with Washington's John
Patterson for third best in the National League.

"I feel I'm a better pitcher right now than ever before,"
Pettitte said. "I'm using my changeup more and that's helping and
I'm just getting smarter and not worrying much about velocity."

Pettitte had elbow surgery that ended his 2004 season last Aug.
24 and caused him to get off to a 3-7 start this year. But he now
thinks the ailing elbow might have contributed to his improved
performance.

"There's no doubt," Pettitte said. "The elbow hasn't allowed
me to over-pitch. It's helped me be more consistent. If I was
healthy, I'd probably get stupid and rare back and just try to
throw hard sometimes."

Brandon Claussen matched Pettitte for four innings before the
Astros broke open the game with a four-run fifth.

"We put together some big hits tonight," manager Phil Garner
said. "Lost in all that was the fact Andy pitched seven shutout
innings. He has just been phenomenal for us.

"He has pitched well for most of the season. It seems like he's
been pretty good for a couple of months."

Brad Ausmus drove in four runs and helped the fifth-inning
outburst. He also praised Pettitte's strong showing.

"He did a great job," Ausmus said. "I don't think he was
feeling 100 percent, but he's got the mental wherewithal to
overcome any kind of tenderness or soreness."

The Reds couldn't tell if Pettitte was hurting.

"He's one of the best pitchers in the game," Jason LaRue said.
"Every time he's out there, he doesn't make too many mistakes and
tonight he didn't make too many mistakes. Sometimes you just have
to tip your cap when you go up against some pitchers."

Adam Dunn agreed.

"He was back to his old self," Dunn said. "The first time we
faced him, he didn't have his velocity back to where it was
tonight. When he is spotting his pitches like he was tonight, he's
one of the best.

"He has his confidence back and it showed tonight."

Jason Lane hit a two-run homer for the Astros, who remained a
half-game behind Philadelphia in the NL wild-card race.

Claussen (9-9) lost for the first time since July 23 against
Milwaukee. He had gone 5-0 in six starts since, the longest win
streak by a Reds pitcher this season.

Claussen allowed only two hits in the first four innings before
the Astros bunched five consecutive hits to score four runs in the
fifth.

"I was aggressive in the strike zone," Claussen said. "They
may have changed their approach in the fifth. They were jumping on
the first pitch.

"The home run ball to Jason Lane was four inches off of the
ground. It was a good pitch but he was able to put the bat on the
ball, get it elevated and get it out. I might have been just a hair
up in that inning but I was still aggressive in the strike zone."

Lance Berkman led off with a double and Lane hit his 20th home
run for a 2-0 lead. Chris Burke and Adam Everett each singled and
Ausmus drove them home with a double to right-center.

Ausmus tried to stretch the hit to a triple and was called out
on a close play at third, which manager Phil Garner argued.

Claussen lasted 5 2-3 innings and allowed four runs on eight
hits. He walked none and struck out three.

Back-to-back RBI singles by Willy Taveras and Craig Biggio off
Jason Standridge made it 6-0 in the seventh.

Ausmus had a two-run single and Jose Vizcaino hit a two-run
homer in the eighth off Randy Keisler.

Game notes
Berkman's fifth-inning double gave him 11 for the month,
tying him with Jose Cruz (1985) for the most by an Astros player in
August. ... Cincinnati is 1-7 at Houston this season. ... Jeff
Bagwell began a rehab stint at Double-A Corpus Christi on
Wednesday. ... Sean Casey's first-inning single gave him an 11-game
hitting streak. ... Felipe Lopez stretched his four-game hitting
slump to 1-for-17. ... Ausmus played second base in the ninth
inning for the second time in his career. The last time he did it
was Oct. 1, 2000, while he was with Detroit. He made his first
career appearance at shortstop against Pittsburgh on Aug. 14. ...
LF Burke tied a career high with three hits.