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Villone overcomes six walks to get victory

ATLANTA (AP) -- Ron Villone was just wild enough to stifle the
high-scoring Atlanta Braves.

He even managed to keep Marcus Giles from getting a hit.

The Houston Astros got off to another quick start, scoring four
runs in the first inning, and Villone overcame six walks to beat
the Braves 7-3 Wednesday night.

"I wasn't very effective in the strike zone," Villone said,
"but I was effective out of it, I guess. I didn't have a lot of
command, but I made the pitches when they counted, when they were
on base."

Giles, who came into the game with a streak of nine straight
hits, flied out to the warning track his first time up to come up
one short of the NL record for consecutive hits. After going
13-of-15 the previous three games, he was hitless in four at-bats
with a walk.

The Braves left 12 runners on base, squandering numerous
chances. Villone (3-1) stranded seven during his five-inning stint.

"He didn't throw a whole lot of strikes, but he was kind of
successful with it," Giles said. "I guess you could say he was
effectively wild. He keeps everything in on the hands."

Giles, who went 0-for-3 against Villone, sounded a little
disappointed that his streak had ended. Losing the game made things
worse.

"As far as the personal stuff, that falls by the wayside when
you lose," Giles said. "It's a tough break for me personally.
More important, it's a tough loss for the team."

Houston struck quickly against Atlanta rookie starter Horacio
Ramirez, who had given up just five first-inning runs all season
but was going against a team that knows a thing or two about fast
starts.

Houston has scored 101 of its 509 runs in the first inning.

"It seems like every time we do that in the first inning,
things go OK for us," Villone said. "Especially against a team of
that caliber, getting a 4-0 lead was a great start."

Craig Biggio doubled into the left-field corner on the second
pitch of the game and came home on Jeff Kent's double. Orlando
Merced, filling in for the ailing Lance Berkman, drove in a run
with a groundout to make it 2-0.

Ramirez (8-4) hit Brad Ausmus with a pitch to load the bases for
Adam Everett, who blooped a single to left-center in front of
Andruw Jones while two runners scored easily.

"I didn't do a good job of damage control," Ramirez said. "If
I do that well, I stay away from the big inning. I didn't, and it
cost us the game.

Villone was the master of damage control, surrendering just one
earned run despite providing all sorts of chances. The left-hander
was lifted for a pinch-hitter after throwing 93 pitches -- only 48
for strikes.

Ramirez struck out with two aboard to end the second. Javy Lopez
came up in both the third and fifth innings with two runners on,
but he flied out both times to thwart any hopes of a rally.

Jones had two RBI for the Braves, whose streak of six straight
games with double-figure hits ended. Villone and three relievers
held Atlanta to eight hits.

Giles had a chance to tie the NL record of 10 consecutive hits,
shared by 10 players and last done by Bip Roberts of Cincinnati in
1992. The first time up, Giles took a ball from Villone, then drove
a pitch to the far reaches of Turner Field.

The crowd roared, but Biggio drifted back in center to make the
catch at the edge of the warning track. On his way back to the
dugout, Giles received a standing ovation.

"I wasn't any more concerned about facing him than facing
anyone else for the first time," Villone said. "I knew he was on
a roll, but we had a 4-0 lead, and I was just trying to throw the
ball over the plate and let things happen."

Said Giles, "My first at-bat was probably my best all day.
After that, I started chasing some pitches and got out of my game
plan a little bit."

Ramirez settled down after his rocky start, pitching four
scoreless innings before running into trouble in the sixth. He have
up singles to Ausmus and pinch-hitter Eric Bruntlett, then Biggio
drove in a run with a forceout against reliever Kevin Gryboski.

The Braves cut it to 5-3 on Lopez's run-scoring single off
Octavio Dotel in the seventh, but once again they left two runners
aboard.

Houston then put the game out of reach with two runs off Jason
Marquis in the eighth.

Game notes
The Braves missed a chance to post the most July wins in
Atlanta history. They dropped to 19-8 this month, one victory shy
of their 20-7 mark in 1995. They'll have one more chance on
Thursday for win No. 20. ... Giles also finished one shy of the
franchise record for consecutive hits. Buddy Haslett of the Boston
Braves had 10 in a row in 1940. ... Berkman was scratched just
before the game with a sore right knee. Merced went 1-for-5. ...
Villone has yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his
eight starts.