MLB Insiders - Houston Astros

MLB Insiders - Houston Astros

The Pirates open a three-game series with the Houston Astros on Tuesday night at PNC Park. Right-hander Ian Snell will be on the hill for the Bucs. Houston will start lefty Andy Pettitte.

MLB INSIDERS

NOTES: A day after completing a four-game sweep against the Cardinals at Minute Maid Park, the Astros won a coin flip Monday to determine the home site of a potential one-game playoff to decide the National League Central if the Astros and Cardinals finish tied after 162 games.

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty chose heads, and the coin fell as tails. If the Astros tie the Cardinals, the game will be Tuesday at Minute Maid Park because that would mean that the Cardinals would have had to play a makeup game against the Giants on Monday in St. Louis.

The 162-game regular season is scheduled to end Sunday for most, but the Cardinals couldn't fit in the rainout before this week. Earlier this month, the Astros won all but one of the coin flips held for potential one-game playoffs among wild-card contenders.

"I'm glad we won the coin flip," general manager Tim Purpura said. "I got this formula. I don't say a word because everybody else has a better record than we do."

The surging Houston Astros try to continue gaining ground in the NL Central as they open a three-game series Tuesday with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Andy Pettitte (13-13, 4.31) looks to shake off recent inconsistency in this crucial start. The veteran left-hander lasted five innings on Thursday against the Cardinals and went just 2 2-3 innings in his previous start Sept. 12 against St. Louis. He has been bothered by an elbow injury and also spent time with his ailing father, which caused him to skip a turn in the rotation in between those starts.

Pettitte is 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA in seven starts against the Pirates. He has won his last four, including an Aug. 26 start in which he allowed four runs and seven hits in six innings of a 7-4 win.

The Pirates (65-91) will hand the ball to Ian Snell, one of their most successful pitchers in seven years. Snell (14-10, 4.67) is trying to become Pittsburgh's first 15-game winner since Todd Ritchie accomplished the feat in 1999.

The 24-year-old had started just six games in his previous two seasons, but predicted during spring training that he would win 15 games.

The right-hander has allowed just three runs in his last two starts, spanning 13 innings, and limited the Los Angeles Dodgers to one run in six innings of a 10-6 win Tuesday.

He is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA in five appearances - four starts - against the Astros. He is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts this year.

REPLAY: Two pinch hitters came through for the Astros on Monday in a 5-4 win at Philadelphia.

Orlando Palmeiro's two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning tied the game at 4, and Mike Lamb followed with an infield hit that knocked in the game-winner.

When the Cardinals lost 6-5 to the Padres, the Astros pulled within 2 1/2 games of first place in the NL Central.

--The Astros used 25 players, a franchise-record-tying nine pitchers and seven pinch hitters Monday in their 5-4 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.

Combined with the seven pitchers used by Phillies, the Astros tied their record for combined pitchers used in a game with 16 while surpassing the previous club record of 14 combined pitchers in a nine-inning game.

Manager Phil Garner used four of his seven pinch hitters during the game-winning, three-run rally in the seventh inning of the makeup of a game that was rained out on Sept. 5.

"Hopefully it's not (a case of) 'too little, too late,'" said Mike Lamb, who drove in the game-winner in the seventh with a pinch infield single to second. "This game has been beating us up for four months. These last two weeks here we finally got some momentum.

"We're playing well and we're getting some timely hits and pitching well. It's obviously more fun right now. It just breaks your heart that it took this long to turn for us. Hopefully it's not too late."

--Manager Phil Garner had said for months that it was foolhardy to discuss the pennant race until the Astros got back to .500, and that mark was reached Monday with their sixth consecutive victory.

"This is the first objective," Garner said of reaching the .500 mark for the first time since July 6. "Now we got to get over .500, and then we can talk about the pennant race."

--Rookie RHP Chris Sampson, who learned of his starting assignment about 4 1/2 hours before the first pitch, threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings Monday before the bullpen picked up the other 5 1/3.

--Considering the Astros didn't get into Philadelphia until 4 a.m. and most didn't get to sleep until about 6 a.m., manager Phil Garner rested some of his veterans.

Craig Biggio, Brad Ausmus, Aubrey Huff and Adam Everett were out of the lineup. Chris Burke started at second in place of Biggio. Humberto Quintero was the starting catcher in place of Ausmus, and Morgan Ensberg started at third in place of Huff.

Eric Bruntlett started at short in place of Everett, whom Garner had planned to rest Monday anyway.

Remembering his days as a player, Garner said night games like the thrilling victory Sunday against the Cardinals take a toll on players. In part for that reason, he opted to rest some of his starters.

"Biggio said he felt good, but that's why I didn't ask him," Garner said. "I knew he'd tell me he could play."

The numbers definitely would have supported Garner's moves considering LHP Randy Wolf's success against the veterans who sat. Their career averages against Wolf: Ausmus (.167), Everett (.167), Biggio (.192) and Huff (.222).

--CF Willy Taveras, who has been bothered by a strained left shoulder, was in the starting lineup Monday night for the first time since Sept. 16.

"He's still a little sore and stiff," manager Phil Garner said of Taveras, "but he's cleared to play. He has been for a couple of days."

Taveras was used as a defensive replacement Saturday and Sunday.

Taveras originally injured his shoulder diving for a catch, and he aggravated the injury Sept. 16 with an ill-advised, head-first slide into first base. For years, players have been warned against sliding head-first into first base. And every year a few players suffer injuries making the play, which teams have proven scientifically does not to help a player reach the bag faster than running through it.

"I have a bit of pain, but it's better," he said. "Let's try to win these next seven games and reach the playoffs. My shoulder was hurting and then it got worse when I hit the bag sliding head-first. The next day I couldn't lift my arm."

--OF Charlton Jimerson got his second major league hit Monday with a single to center in the fifth inning. Both of his hits have been as a pinch hitter against the Phillies. He drilled a home run in his first major league at-bat Sept. 4 at Citizens Bank Park.

--LHP Andy Pettitte will make his 34th start and 35th appearance of the season Tuesday. He is 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA this year against Pittsburgh, and he is 6-1 with a 2.30 ERA in his career against the Pirates.

--OF Orlando Palmeiro tied the score at 4 with a pinch, two-run single to left field Monday. It was his fourth consecutive hit in the pinch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2,926 -- Career hits for 2B Craig Biggio through Sept. 25, putting him one behind Al Simmons for 33rd on the all-time list.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It doesn't even enter into my mind right now. If it is, it's great, and we'll make the most of it. My main focus is making sure my body is right to handle what it needs to do." -- RHP Roger Clemens, when asked if this would be his final season.

MEDICAL WATCH:

CF Willy Taveras didn't play Sept. 17-22 due to a sore left shoulder. He returned Sept. 23 as a defensive replacement, and he was back in the starting lineup Sept. 25.

LHP Andy Pettitte, who had his start pushed from Sept. 11 to Sept. 12 because of a tender left ankle, left the Sept. 12 game because of a strained left elbow. He started Sept. 21.

RHP Brandon Backe went on the disabled list Aug. 19 because of a right elbow sprain. On Sept. 7, he had "Tommy John" surgery, which could knock him out for all of 2007.

1B Jeff Bagwell has been on the disabled list all season because of arthritic bone spurs in his right shoulder.

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