Pettitte made his shortest start in 2½ months, but still won his seventh in a row and increased Houston's NL wild-card lead with a 7-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
The Astros' sixth victory in seven games boosted their cushion to two games over the Phillies, 4-1 losers to the Braves, and three games over the Marlins, who lost 3-2 in 12 innings to the Mets.
Several Astros players began cheering and yelling in the clubhouse as the Mets beat the Marlins, causing Brad Ausmus to ask, laughing, "Did we just clinch?"
Not yet, but the Astros will if they keep giving one of the majors' best pitching staffs this kind of support. Brad Ausmus drove in four runs, matching his season high, and center fielder Eric Bruntlett made two excellent defensive plays.
Bruntlett threw out Jose Bautista at the plate with a strong throw to end the fourth, keeping the Astros on top 4-2. He also ranged far to his right to make a diving, backhanded grab of Jason Bay's shot into the left-center gap an inning later.
Pettitte wasn't as sharp as he was in holding Florida to one run in eight innings Thursday, but won his 14th in 16 decisions since June 20 -- the best record in the majors during that stretch. He gave up seven hits and two runs in 5 1/3 innings, the 18th consecutive start he has yielded three runs or fewer.
"It seemed like I was in trouble in every inning, but the guys picked me up and played great defense and scored some runs," Pettitte said.
Ausmus had three of his four RBI on consecutive doubles off Pirates left-hander Tom Gorzelanny (0-1), who made his major league debut. Gorzelanny, a 2003 second-round draft pick, pitched earlier this month in both the Triple-A and Double-A playoffs, but the majors proved a little more difficult.
Gorzelanny couldn't follow two other Pirates rookie left-handers who have enjoyed outstanding starts to their careers, Zach Duke (6-1) and Paul Maholm (2-0), or right-hander Ian Snell, who beat Clemens 7-0 Monday night.
"Not every guy we bring up can pitch like Duke and Maholm," interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "That's asking for a lot."
Pettitte (17-9) never finds it very difficult to beat the last-place Pirates, who, despite their 62-89 record, had won three in a row against Houston -- all by shutout.
"But we bounced back tonight and looked great," manager Phil Garner said.
Houston ended its 28-inning scoreless streak against Pittsburgh in the second on Adam Everett's routine pop fly that fell among three players in short left field for a single, and Ausmus' first double.
"We've had to battle back from those kind of nights a lot this year," Bruntlett said, referring to the Astros' major league-leading 17 shutout losses.
Everett also singled on a squeeze bunt to drive in a run in a three-run fourth, and Ausmus followed with a two-run double to make it 4-2. Everett went 3-for-4 after missing four games to be with his 8-month-old daughter, who needed surgery for an undisclosed medical problem Friday.
Morgan Ensberg, in his second game back in the lineup after not starting for two weeks because of a hand injury, added his 35th home run in the fifth. The solo shot helped chase Gorzelanny, who gave up seven hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings.
Pettitte is 5-1 with a 1.70 ERA in six career starts against the Pirates and 3-1 with a 1.48 ERA in four PNC Park starts.
"It wasn't great and they battled me pretty hard," Pettitte said. "I was getting ahead of them for the most part but I just couldn't put guys away."
Brad Eldred, another rookie and one of eight right-handed batters in Pittsburgh's lineup, hit his 10th homer leading off the second. Craig Wilson had a run-scoring double in the third for the Pirates, who had won four in a row and five of six.
- Gorzelanny struck out two after leading all Pirates minor-league pitchers with 167 strikeouts in 129 2/3 innings.
- Pettitte has a 1.70 ERA during his winning streak. It was his shortest start since he lasted five innings against San Diego on July 6.
- The season series is tied at 7. Five of the Pirates' seven victories came in shutouts.