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Bases-loaded walk is the difference

ATLANTA (AP) -- A bad-hop hit, a mental error and a bases-loaded
walk -- that was enough to give Andy Pettitte and the Houston Astros
another victory.

They didn't even need Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.

Pettitte won a pitching duel with Russ Ortiz and the first-place
Astros made the most of their opportunities, defeating the Atlanta
Braves 2-1 on Sunday.

There were only six hits in the game -- three by each team.

"Those were two pros going at each other," Houston manager
Jimy Williams said.

An unusual confluence of events led to Houston's first run in
the fifth -- a wicked hop turned a routine grounder into a double,
then Braves replacement shortstop Wilson Betemit threw to the wrong
base.

In the seventh, Houston picked up its only legitimate hit off
Ortiz and wound up scoring the winning run when Orlando Palmeiro
walked with the bases loaded.

"Just as long as we win," said Palmeiro, who was filling in
for Biggio. "I don't care what happens."

Biggio and Bagwell, mainstays in the Houston lineup for more
than a decade, were both rested. It was the first time since Aug.
4, 2002, that both began a game watching from the dugout.

The Astros bounced back after a huge disappointment Saturday
night.

They squandered leads in the eighth and ninth before Andruw
Jones' homered in the 10th to give the Braves a 5-4 win. Things
fell apart after a disputed call, which led to the ejection of
Williams, coach John Tamargo and pitcher Roy Oswalt.

"To win this one today, after losing that one last night, was
definitely great," Pettitte said.

The left-hander, signed away from the New York Yankees during
the offseason, allowed just two hits and a run in six innings.
Pettitte (3-1) has won all three starts since coming off the
disabled list and improved to 4-0 in his career against the Braves.

"He has dominant stuff," Atlanta's Chipper Jones said. "If
you don't get some baserunners on, he's going to get in a groove
and there's no stopping him."

The Astros have won nine of 11 and lead what figures to be a
hotly contested race in the NL Central. The Braves are heading in
the opposite direction, losing for the fourth time in five games.
They also have lost five of their last six series.

Injuries have taken a severe toll. The Braves played their 26th
different lineup -- in 30 games -- and again were missing their top
two hitters, Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles.

"We're not very deep," Chipper Jones said. "If we don't go
through the season somewhat healthy, we're going to struggle.
That's been the case the first month."

Ortiz (3-4) was the hard-luck loser, giving up just two hits in
6 2/3 innings. He retired the first two hitters in the seventh
before Morgan Ensberg singled up the middle.

Ortiz walked the next two to run his pitch count to 133,
prompting manager Bobby Cox to bring in Kevin Gryboski with the
bases loaded. Palmeiro, just 5-for-28 on the season, fell behind
1-2 in the count before taking three straight balls from Gryboski.

"I had never seen him before," Palmeiro said. "I was looking
for something up, but he never really gave me anything up."

Ortiz, watching from the dugout, buried his head in his hands as
Ensberg trotted home.

"I was trying too hard to get that last out," Ortiz said. "I
didn't do that the whole game. I just had that little change in my
mentality."

Even so, the Braves wasted a superb effort by their starter, who
retired the first 12 hitters and struck out nine.

"He couldn't have pitched any better," Cox said. "I thought
we could have won that game 1-0."

Pettitte didn't allow a hit until the fourth, when the Braves
struck for their only run with two outs. J.D. Drew and Johnny
Estrada hit back-to-back doubles.

That was about it.

Jesse Garcia had the only other hit for the Braves, blooping a
single down the right-field line and taking second when Richard
Hidalgo kicked the away.

But Dan Miceli, who worked two scoreless innings, got out of the
jam by retiring Adam LaRoche and Mark DeRosa on easy grounders.
Octavio Dotel struck out two in a perfect ninth for his sixth save.

Jeff Kent led off the fifth with a grounder to short that
suddenly ricocheted off Betemit's right shoulder, winding up in
short left field while the runner hustled to second.

Betemit couldn't do anything about the bad hop, but Mike Lamb's
grounder with one out was a different matter.

Betemit, called up from the minors Saturday, attempted to throw
out Kent at third instead of taking the easier play at first. Kent
beat the tag and wound up scoring on Brad Ausmus' sacrifice fly,
which should've been the third out.

"Wilson made a bit of a mental error," Chipper Jones said.
"But the bottom line is -- one run is not going to win a ball
game."

Game notes
Chipper Jones is 0-for-6 with four strikeouts since coming
off the disabled list. "I'm rusty," he said. ... Biggio followed
his normal routine of taking off when a day game follows a night
game. He did ground out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth. ... There
were 19 strikeouts, including 11 by the Astros against three
Atlanta pitchers. ... Ausmus had Houston's other hit.