Perez wins fourth straight start

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The Pittsburgh Pirates know all about bad

baseball, having gone through 12 consecutive losing seasons. Even

they haven't seen anything like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Jose Castillo homered and drove in five runs to support Oliver

Perez's seven effective innings, and the Pirates reached .500 after

June 1 for the first time since 1999 by beating the Devil Rays 18-2

Saturday night.

"But we're not satisfied with being .500," Humberto Cota said.

"We want to be above .500 and compete with the big teams."

Pittsburgh, winning a season-high fourth in a row, opened a 3-0

lead in the first against Scott Kazmir to back Perez's fourth

consecutive victory. Perez (5-4) struck out 10 and retired 13 in a

row at one point while limiting Tampa Bay to five hits and one run

over seven innings.

The Pirates won their ninth in 12 games on a homestand that

wraps up Sunday and are 30-30 -- the latest in a season they've been

at .500 since September 1999. They are 22-14 since being 8-16 on

May 2.

By comparison, Tampa Bay's awful season keeps getting worse, if

that's possible. The Devil Rays are on pace to lose 110 games, and

are 1-10 on their current road trip with seven consecutive losses.

"I've never seen anything that stinks like this," Aubrey Huff

said. "This is bad. We keep saying 'keep your head up, keep your

head up, and good things will happen.' But good things never seen

to happen around here."

Not even having Kazmir (2-5) on the mound -- he's been their most

reliable starter -- prevented the Devil Rays' latest blowout loss.

They allowed 10 or more runs for a remarkable sixth time in 11

games and have been outscored 25-4 in the first two games of the

interleague series. They have given up 71 runs in seven games and

an ERA-inflating 50 runs in their last four.

"Where do we make changes?" manager Lou Piniella said about

possible lineup alterations. "The only people who can get this

thing stopped is the players."

The Devil Rays' 4-28 road record is one of the majors' five

worst to this point of a season since 1900, and they are 0-8

against the NL after going 15-3 a season ago, the best interleague

record in the majors.

Asked if he feared the season is spiraling out of control, Huff

said, "It already has spiraled out of control. We've won four

games on the road. We get beat in every which way possible. How

could it get any worse? If it happens like this the rest of the

year, I don't know how much more guys can take."

For the Pirates, getting to .500 is a small step on what they

hope is the path back to respectability for a franchise that hasn't

had a winning season since Barry Bonds was its left fielder.

"That isn't our goal," manager Lloyd McClendon said. "Our

goal is to get better. I don't know the significance of it in

June."

Castillo made a slight adjustment in his stance after going

0-for-18, then had a run-scoring single after the first four

Pirates reached base in a three-run first. He added a three-run

homer, his third, in a six-run fifth inning.

Kazmir had won his last two starts and had given up two or fewer

earned runs in three of his last four starts, but allowed eight

hits and nine runs in 4 1/3 innings to jump his ERA from 3.86 to

4.70.

Daryle Ward drove in four runs, and rookie Ryan Doumit reached

base five times, had three hits, scored three times and had his

first three career RBI in his second major league start.

Perez was 1-4 with an 8.03 ERA after an 8-4 loss to Arizona on

May 6, and has since lowered his ERA to 5.88. But his enthusiasm in

doing so is angering some opposing hitters.

Eduardo Perez, unhappy with what he felt were the left-hander's

showboat antics, stepped out of the box and signaled his

disapproval in the fourth, then struck out.

"If a guy starts clowning around out there, I'm going to let

him know about it," he said.

Game notes
The Pirates have won their last five home series. ...

Pittsburgh hadn't won four in a row since Aug. 14-17. ... Oliver

Perez didn't allow a homer or an extra-base hit after giving up 16

homers in his first 11 starts. ... The Pirates hadn't been .500

since they were 23-23 last season. Their 20 hits and 18 runs were a

season high. They hadn't scored as many as 18 since a 19-2 win over

the Mets on Sept. 26, 1992. ... Tampa Bay allowed 19 runs in a 19-8

loss to the Yankees on April 18.