The Houston Astros lost track of the ball-strike count and, later, one of their base runners. It's no wonder they still haven't lost Cincinnati in the NL Central race.
Todd Ritchie outpitched 20-game winner Jose Lima and the Pittsburgh Pirates turned two unusual double plays in as many innings to slow Houston's run at a third straight division title, beating the visiting Astros, 3-2, last night.
The Pirates, playing without 39-homer hitter Brian Giles, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken finger, took two of three from the NL Central-leading Astros.
The Astros, who lost their fifth in seven games, had their lead cut to 2 1/2 games over the Reds, who won 4-3 in San Diego.
Ritchie was helped by some good defense and some bad Houston base running that halted a pair of threats.
With the score tied at 2 in the sixth, Stan Javier and Carl Everett singled around Jeff Bagwell's strikeout and Ken Caminiti walked. Javier then broke for the plate on Daryle Ward's slow-hit grounder to first baseman Kevin Young and was called out on a close play.
Rather than holding at third, Everett came halfway down the line and was tagged out by catcher Joe Oliver to complete the double play.
In the seventh, Ricky Gutierrez singled with one out and Lima attempted to bunt him up. But Oliver gambled by throwing to second rather than taking the sure out at first and Gutierrez was called out. With Lima running at less than full speed, Abraham Nunez's throw to first beat him by more than a step.
The Houston bench thought Gutierrez was safe at second. The inning before, the Astros also felt home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez signaled a strike on a 2-0 pitch to Nunez, only to allow Nunez to take first when Lima threw a ball on the next pitch.
"The first two runs were driven in by guys we thought had struck out," Astros Manager Larry Dierker said. "This was a tough game, a tough game to lose."
Ritchie (14-9) limited the Astros to two runs and six hits, striking out 10 in his second complete game.
The Pirates took a 2-0 lead on Warren Morris's RBI double in the second and Al Martin's leadoff triple in the third and Brant Brown's sacrifice fly. The Astros tied it in the fourth on Javier's double, Bagwell's RBI single and Caminiti's sacrifice fly.
The Pirates needed only one hit to take the lead in the sixth. With Lima apparently preoccupied by the ball-strike call, Nunez stole second and scored on Young's one-out single.
PHILLIES 12, BREWERS 3: In Milwaukee, Ron Gant, Bobby Abreu and Rico Brogna each had two hits during an 11-run eighth inning, Philadelphia's biggest scoring frame in 18 years.
Philadelphia was held to one run and six hits through seven innings by Steve Woodard before breaking through in the eighth with four doubles, six singles and two hit batsmen in the eighth.
The Phillies scored 11 runs in an inning for the first time since Sept. 24, 1981, against St. Louis. Their record is 12 runs, set July 21, 1923, against the Cubs. The 10 hits and 11 runs allowed in an inning each matched a Brewers franchise record.
DIAMONDBACKS 11, ROCKIES 3: In Denver, Matt Williams homered and drove in four runs and Andy Benes (12-12) pitched eight strong innings and had three RBI as Arizona lowered its magic number for clinching the NL West to two.
Colorado Manager Jim Leyland rested Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla and NL-batting leader Larry Walker.
REDS 4, PADRES 3: Greg Vaughn hit his 42nd homer and visiting Cincinnati held on to gain a game on both teams they're chasing in the playoff hunt. The Reds closed within 2 1/2 games of both Houston in the NL Central and the New York Mets in the wild-card race.
Ron Villone (9-7), who pitched for the Padres in parts of the 1995 and '96 seasons, got the win in his first appearance against his old club.
Vaughn's two-run homer off Andy Ashby (14-10) with one out in the fifth gave the Reds a 4-1 lead.
GIANTS 5, DODGERS 4: In Los Angeles, Brent Mayne singled to drive in the go-ahead run in the eighth as San Francisco kept its slim hopes alive in the NL West race.
The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Giants, who trail NL West-leading Arizona by nine games with 10 remaining. Mark Gardner (5-11) won in relief and Robb Nen got his 37th save. The loss snapped a four-game Los Angeles winning streak.
CUBS 5, CARDINALS 3: Even with the wind whipping out at Wrigley Field on a perfect day for home runs, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire couldn't clear the fence. McGwire went 0 for 3 with two walks. Sosa, who still leads the homer derby 61-59, also walked twice in an 0-for-2 day.
Mark Grace hit a two-run triple and Jeff Blauser added a solo homer for the Cubs, who set a Wrigley Field season attendance record of 2,669,153, breaking the previous mark of 2,653,763 in 1993.
EXPOS 5, MARLINS 3: In Miami, Orlando Merced and James Mouton, each hit two-run doubles to spark Montreal. Miguel Batista (8-7) won with five shutout innings.