Snell blanks Bonds-less Giants, wins fifth straight

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Ian Snell is a big reason the Pittsburgh
Pirates are playing much better.

After walking three of his first six batters Saturday, Snell
settled down and pitched three-hit ball for seven innings to win
his fifth straight start and lead Pittsburgh past the San Francisco
Giants 2-0.

"It's a team thing. We've shown signs of turning the corner,
but it's just a matter of believing in ourselves," Snell said
after combining with three relievers to blank the Giants.
"Everybody in here is doing their part to turn it around. We just
have to trust one another and believe in each other."

Jose Castillo and Jose Bautista homered for the Pirates, who are
10-6 since May 24 after starting the season 14-33.

The Giants played without Barry Bonds for the fourth straight
game. Bonds is nursing a sore left side and isn't expected to play
again until next week when San Francisco travels to Arizona.

The Giants are 1-3 since Bonds left the lineup, though his
presence might not have mattered the way Snell (7-3) was pitching.
The right-hander overcame a shaky start in the first inning when he
threw 29 pitches, finishing with five strikeouts while retiring 16
of his final 17 batters.

"He was struggling a little bit mechanically and his command
was (off)," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said. "To rectify himself
in the manner he did is just terrific. It's a sign of his growth."

Pittsburgh, which beat San Francisco 3-2 on Friday, won
consecutive road games for the first time this season. The Pirates
are just 7-25 away from home but 3-3 on their current trip.

Snell's last loss came May 14. Coming off a 10-strikeout
performance against Colorado in his previous start, he didn't allow
a runner past first base after the second inning.

He struggled with his control early and received a brief visit
on the mound in the first from pitching coach Jim Colborn. Snell
shrugged off any concerns Colborn had, then slammed the door on San
Francisco's offense.

"That mound there is pretty high and it was kind of tough to
adjust to at first," Snell said. "(Colborn) told me my mechanics
were off, that I was rushing. He told me to just forget about that
(inning) and go after guys."

San Francisco put two runners on in each of the first two
innings, but Snell escaped by striking out Mark Sweeney to end the
first and getting Randy Winn to fly out to end the second.

Snell helped himself after giving up a leadoff single to Giants
pitcher Noah Lowry in the fifth, snaring Winn's line drive and
throwing to first baseman Sean Casey to double off Lowry.

Roberto Hernandez relieved Snell to start the eighth and gave up
a one-out double to Winn and a single to Omar Vizquel before being
removed for left-hander Damaso Marte, who got Steve Finley to
ground into a 6-4-3 double play.

Mike Gonzalez pitched the ninth for his 10th save in 10
opportunities to complete the six-hitter, Pittsburgh's third
shutout this season. The Giants were blanked for the third time.

"I don't want to give anybody too much credit," San Francisco
outfielder Moises Alou said. "We just (stunk) today."

The Giants wasted a solid pitching performance from Lowry (2-4),
who scattered three hits over eight innings while striking out a
season-high five. The lefty made only two mistakes -- a solo home
run to Castillo in the second and another to Bautista in the sixth.

"He threw a great game, just like Matt Morris did (Friday),"
San Francisco manager Felipe Alou said. "Same thing, same kind of
performance. No runs to defend."

Castillo's homer came moments after Pirates third baseman Freddy
Sanchez was ejected by plate umpire Rick Reed. Sanchez, who went
into the game with an NL-leading .342 batting average, was upset
after being called out on strikes and argued with Reed while
walking toward Pittsburgh's dugout. Reed followed Sanchez briefly
before tossing the infielder from the game.

Lowry settled down after that and retired nine of his next 11
before Bautista led off the sixth with his fifth home run.

Bonds, a late scratch Friday, had hoped to play Saturday but was
held out after consulting with team trainers.

"He wanted to play today but the trainers don't feel he should
play," Felipe Alou said. "They don't believe he should take a
chance, not today, not tomorrow."

Bonds did not take batting practice and brushed aside questions
about his health before the game.

"I feel good," he said while making his way through the
clubhouse. "I'm breathing. Don't you feel good?"

Game notes
San Francisco 2B Ray Durham returned to the lineup after
missing Friday's game with a stiff neck. Durham went 1-for-3 with a
walk. ... Castillo is batting .370 over his last 29 games. ... The
Pirates are on pace to hit 185 home runs this season, which would
break the franchise record of 171 set in 1999. ... Bautista's home
run was just his second this season off a left-handed pitcher.