Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Rangers 7, Astros 2

AP Sports Writer

        ARLINGTON, Texas — Chan Ho Park is finally paying dividends for the Texas Rangers.

        Park (7-6) allowed just one run over 6 2/3 innings and won his third straight start — all since returning from his second stay on the disabled list this season — as the Rangers beat the Houston Astros 7-2 on Monday.

        While giving the Rangers a win after being swept in three games by Tampa Bay, Park gave himself a winning record for the first time since signing his $65 million, five-year contract last December to be Texas' No. 1 starter.

        “Chan Ho really picked us up, and stepped it up when we needed a big outing,” Rangers manager Jerry Narron said.

        Kevin Mench drove in three runs for the Rangers while Michael Young had a pair of RBI singles and Alex Rodriguez got his major league-leading 120th RBI with a sixth-inning double.

        Houston missed another chance to make up ground on first-place St. Louis in the NL Central, remaining four games behind the Cardinals, who lost 5-3 to Cincinnati.

        The game, the last interleague game until the World Series, was the makeup of a June 30 rainout.

        Since coming off the disabled list because of a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand to start Aug. 23 against the New York Yankees, Park has allowed just five earned runs with 21 strikeouts in 19 2-3 innings.

        The right-hander, who never spent a day on the DL the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, also missed six weeks with a pulled right hamstring after starting the season opener.

        “I'd never been injured that bad and couldn't pitch that long. That hurt me because I couldn't understand,” Park said. “Now I feel better, physically better and mentally better. And I'm more focused.”

        Park struck out seven and held the Astros scoreless until Alan Zinter's one-out homer in the seventh. Park had gotten out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth with a strikeout and a double-play grounder.

        Todd Greene homered to lead off the Texas seventh, giving the Rangers a homer in 20 straight games, one short of a team record.

        Mench's RBI single in the third off Jeriome Robertson (0-1), who made his major league debut, produced the first run and put the Rangers ahead to stay. An inning later, the Rangers' rookie left fielder added a two-run double.

        Houston purchased Robertson's contract from Triple-A New Orleans to start in place of Roy Oswalt, who was serving the last game of his five-game suspension for throwing a pitch that hit the Chicago Cubs' Alex Gonzalez on Aug. 12. Oswalt (17-6) will start Tuesday at San Diego.

        Robertson gave up two runs and six hits in 2 2-3 innings.

        Ruben Rivera's bunt single started the third, and Donnie Sadler followed with a single to right before Mench and Young had consecutive RBI singles for a 2-0 lead. Mench's double in the fourth came with two outs after Carl Everett and Rivera both singled.

        The Rangers could have scored more. But they left the bases loaded twice — with a total of 11 runners left on during the game — and Astros second baseman Mark Loretta reached back to make a barehanded grab of shortstop Jose Vizcaino's wide throw for a forceout to end the third with two runners on.

        Loretta, in his second game for Houston after being traded Saturday from Milwaukee, had a two-out single in the seventh that chased Park. But he was thrown out at the plate on Lance Berkman's double into the left field corner when Mench and Rodriguez made a perfect relay to Greene.

        “We had some chances in the sixth and seventh,” Astros manager Jimy Williams said. “We just needed a couple of hits and a few inches.”

        Young walked and scored on Rodriguez's double in the sixth, then added his second RBI single an inning later.

        Zinter, who started at first with Jeff Bagwell as the designated hitter, hit his 414-foot homer to center. Bagwell was hit by a pitch by Jay Powell in the eighth and scored on a wild pitch by the former Astros pitcher.

        Notes: Houston claimed the Silver Boot trophy that goes to the winner of the season series, winning four of the six games. ... The Rangers record for most consecutive games with a homer is 21, set June 24-July 18. ... Bagwell's sixth-inning single was his 1,938th career hit. That broke him out of a second-place tie with Jose Cruz on the Astros career list. Craig Biggio is No. 1 with 2,279. ... Greene played for the first time since being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma last Tuesday. He started as Ivan Rodriguez got the day off. ... The Rangers gave away 10,426 tickets for the game, plus had a paid attendance of 24,468. There were still a lot of empty seats.


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