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Tigers Bullpen Blows Another

The Houston Astros have won just four games all season when trailing after eight innings. Two of those wins have come in the last two nights both against the same pitcher.

Todd Jones blew a save for the second straight game as Houston scored four ninth-inning runs to beat the Detroit Tigers 5-3 Tuesday for their fourth straight win.

Craig Biggio's two-run homer off Jones (0-3) was the key hit for the Astros, who scored five ninth-inning runs off Jones in a 9-5 victory Monday night.

"I love to win and it's really exciting," Astros manager Larry Dierker said. "But this can take its toll on you."

It certainly has on Jones, a former Astro who had converted 32 of 34 save opportunities before Monday.

"I can't believe I'm having this conversation again," Jones said. "It's killing me, but this is what defines you as a player and a human. I won't give this game the luxury of getting me down."

With the Astros trailing 3-1, Moises Alou led off the Houston ninth with a homer off starter Brian Moehler. Jones relieved and retired the next two batters before walking pinch-hitter J.R. Phillips on a full count.

After a wild pitch, Brad Ausmus' RBI single tied the game and Biggio's ninth homer gave Houston another improbable win.

"That's why it's nine innings," Ausmus said. "It doesn't happen very often when you face a good closer and can get to him two straight nights, but this ballpark can play a little small sometimes."

Jones couldn't wait for another opportunity following Monday's loss and, despite another failure, was glad manager Buddy Bell gave him the chance.

"This is when it becomes all mental," Jones said. "These guys rely on me to be mentally tough, and I have no intention to give in on this thing.

"I know (Bell) will continue to throw me out there and I'll get straightened out. One day Buddy and I will have a big laugh over this."

Deivi Cruz had three singles for the Tigers, who lost their seventh in the last nine games. The Astros improved to 8-12 in interleague play over the past two seasons, and the Tigers fell to 10-9.

Moehler allowed two runs and eight hits in eight-plus innings, but the ninth-inning rally prevented him from improving to 6-0 at Tiger Stadium this season. He has a 1.93 ERA at home, but is 0-5 with a 7.71 ERA on the road.

"That guy pitched a great game," Dierker said. "He completely neutralized our right-handed hitters and he was keeping the ball on the ground.

"Until Alou hit that (homer), our right-handed hitters didn't get any good swings at all."

Mike Hampton (8-3) gave up three runs and nine hits in eight innings. Billy Wagner walked the first two batters in the ninth, then struck out three straiht for his 16th save.

Hampton is 20-6 since an 3-7 start last year.

"I was glad to pitch that long and give them an opportunity," Hampton said. "We have a strong lineup one through nine. I was lucky, but that's part of baseball."

Hampton allowed just an infield hit to Cruz through the first four innings before the Tigers scored all their runs on five straight two-out hits in the fifth.

Bill Ripken, Cruz, Brian Hunter, Joe Randa and Bobby Higginson hit consecutive singles, with the last three driving in runs.

The Astros scored in the top of the fifth when Biggio tripled down the right-field line and came home on Bill Spiers' single.

Biggio had three hits for Houston, while Spiers and Carl Everett each had two.

Notes: The Tigers' fifth-inning rally marked the third time this season they've had five straight hits. ... Houston's 9-5 win Monday was the first time in seven tries that the Astros won an interleague series opener. ... Tigers outfielder Bip Roberts, on the disabled list since May 26 with a strained right hamstring, will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday at Triple-A Toledo. ... Biggio has hit in 31 of his last 39 games.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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