PITTSBURGH – Humberto Cota finished off a frantic rally with a game-winning single in the 10th inning after Mets closer Braden Looper wasted a four-run lead in the ninth, and the Pittsburgh Pirates stunned New York 6-5, Friday night.

The Mets, coming off three wins in a four-game series at NL East leader Washington, opened a 5-1 lead on Ramon Castro’s homer and RBI single, but one of the league’s most reliable closers couldn’t hold it.

With Looper (2-4) still on in the 10th, Rob Mackowiak reached on second baseman Miguel Cairo’s two-base throwing error with one out and, after Jose Castillo grounded out, the left-handed hitting Daryle Ward was intentionally walked.

Opposing right-handed hitters were hitting only .212 against Looper before Cota lined the single into left field, a night after his two-run homer accounted for the Pirates’ only runs in a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia.

Jose Mesa (1-5) pitched the 10th for his first win since Aug. 19 last year.

Pittsburgh had only five hits in eight innings against starter Victor Zambrano but loaded the bases with two outs against reliever Aaron Heilman after manager Willie Randolph chose to not use Looper in a non-save situation. Looper had converted 19 of his most recent 20 save chances.

Pinch-hitter Tike Redman repeatedly fouled off pitches during a 12-pitch at-bat against Looper before grounding a two-run single up the middle to make it 5-3. Despite giving up the hit, Looper still had a chance for his 21st save in 24 opportunities.

But left fielder Cliff Floyd got a late jump on Matt Lawton’s sinking line drive, then came up short on a diving attempt as the two-run double went under his glove and rolled to the wall.

Astros 3, Dodgers 2

HOUSTON – Roger Clemens was victimized by poor run support again.

The Rocket allowed two runs in seven strong innings but didn’t get a decision as the Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 on Morgan Ensberg’s run-scoring double in the ninth.

Clemens, 4-0 in seven starts since May 30, gave up eight hits, struck out four and walked one. His ERA, the best in the major leagues, rose to 1.48 from 1.40.

The 42-year-old right-hander, selected an All-Star for the 11th time, is 7-3 in 18 starts this year, and the Astros have scored two runs or fewer in five of his no-decisions. He was facing the Dodgers for just the second time in his major league career.

Willy Taveras led off the ninth with his 41st infield single, sliding headfirst into the base to beat the throw from first baseman Hee-Seop Choi to reliever Yhency Brazoban (2-3). Craig Biggio sacrificed, and Ensberg doubled to deep right center.

Braves 2, Brewers 1

ATLANTA – Pinch-hitter Ryan Langerhans’ bases-loaded single with one out in the ninth inning scored the winning run, and the Atlanta Braves beat the Milwaukee Brewers 2-1 for their sixth straight victory.

Julio Franco singled against Julio Santana (1-3) with one out and was replaced by Pete Orr. Adam LaRoche followed with a pinch-hit single before Johnny Estrada was intentionally walked to load the bases.

Langerhans, who replaced fellow rookie right fielder Jeff Francoeur, drove the ball past shortstop J.J. Hardy’s diving attempt.

Former closer Dan Kolb (2-5) pitched a scoreless ninth to earn the win. The Braves won for the 17th time in 22 games.

Lyle Overbay hit his 11th homer for Milwaukee, which has lost three straight after winning five of six.

Nationals 8, Phillies 7

PHILADELPHIA – Carlos Baerga hit a three-run homer and Matt Cepicky drove in three runs to lead the Washington Nationals to an 8-7 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.

Washington nearly wasted a five-run lead in the middle innings, giving up three runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth.

But Gary Majewski pitched two scoreless innings of relief, and All-Star Chad Cordero threw a scoreless ninth for his league-leading 31st save.

Washington earned its major-league leading 24th one-run victory.

The Nationals had dropped three of four to the Mets for their first series loss at home since April. But they had 11 hits and dropped the last-place Phillies 91/2 games back of the division lead.

Ryan Drese (3-1) continued to turn his season around since the Nationals claimed him off waivers in early June, pitching one-hit until he allowed three runs in the fifth.

Cubs 9, Marlins 6

MIAMI – The Chicago Cubs snapped the NL’s longest losing streak, and they did it against a pitcher tied for the league lead in wins – Dontrelle Willis.

Jeromy Burnitz homered and drove in three runs, Matt Murton had two hits in his big league debut and the Cubs ended an eight-game skid by beating Willis and the Florida Marlins 9-6 Friday. Willis (13-4) was bidding to become baseball’s first 14-game winner. Instead, he struggled through his shortest outing this season, allowing a career-high eight runs, all earned, in 4 1-3 innings.

His ERA rose from 1.89 to 2.39.

Padres 12, Rockies 2

DENVER – Ryan Klesko hit his ninth career grand slam as part of a six-run sixth inning to lift the San Diego Padres to a 12-2 rout of the Colorado Rockies.

Klesko took an 0-1 pitch off Byung-Hyun Kim to right-center field to put the Padres ahead 10-2 and secure the second straight victory for Tim Stauffer (3-4).

Stauffer pitched seven innings, allowing five hits and two runs and striking out five for the Padres, who lead the NL West and are guaranteed of heading into the All-Star break with a winning record for just the ninth time in franchise history.

Jamey Wright (5-9) allowed six runs in 5 1-3 innings for the Rockies, who matched their most lopsided loss of the season and started bumbling well before Klesko’s homer turned the game into a laugher.


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