Series: Game 2 of 3

Houston leads 2-0 (as of 8/31)

Game 1: Monday, August 30
Game 2: Tuesday, August 31
Game 3: Wednesday, September 1

Astros 8

(69-63, 36-30 away)

Reds 0

(62-69, 34-32 home)

    7:10 PM ET, August 31, 2004

    Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati, Ohio 

    123456789 R H E
    HOU 010030004 8 11 0
    CIN 000000000 0 6 0

    W: B. Backe (2-2)

    L: A. Harang (8-7)

    Back-to-back-to-back jacks fuel Houston

    CINCINNATI (AP) -- One inning, four pitches, three home runs -- that was more than enough for the streaking Houston Astros.

    Jeff Kent homered twice and Houston hit three straight shots in the fifth inning Tuesday night to help the Astros beat the Cincinnati Reds 8-0 for their fifth straight win and eighth in nine games.

    Carlos Beltran, Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman hit consecutive home runs for the Astros, who pulled within three games of the NL wild-card lead after the Chicago Cubs' 8-0 loss at Montreal.

    Brandon Backe (2-2) scattered three hits over six shutout innings to win for the first time in three career starts. He threw seven shutout innings in a no-decision against Chicago in his first career start on Aug. 21.

    The Reds got just one runner past second base against Backe. Barry Larkin went to third on Sean Casey's two-out double in the sixth, but Backe struck out Adam Dunn looking to end the threat.

    "I had already gotten him out twice," Backe said. "On 3-2, I threw him a backdoor slider. First base was open, so I wasn't going to leave it in the middle of the plate. He was either going to take it for a ball, take it for a strike or swing through it."

    "Backe was in some jams, but he made pitches when he had to," manager Phil Garner said.

    Relievers Chad Qualls, Mike Gallo and Dan Wheeler allowed a combined three hits over the final three innings for Houston's 11th shutout of the season.

    Kent led off the second with his 18th homer of the season to give Houston a 1-0 lead, then hit a two-run shot in the ninth.

    Aaron Harang (8-7) allowed four home runs in five innings and lost for the fourth time in five starts.

    With one out in the fifth, Beltran and Bagwell each hit their 21st, on consecutive pitches, and Berkman followed with his 24th, his third in two nights.

    "You can't be perfect all the time," said Harang, who threw a three-hit shutout in his last start, a 1-0 win against St. Louis last Thursday. "They're a good team, and they're hot right now. I didn't execute my pitches the way I wanted to, but I went back and looked, and they weren't that bad.

    "Their lineup's tough. Any of them can hurt you."

    "We didn't muster any offense," Reds manager Dave Miley said. "You look at Aaron, he gave up the home runs, but they were all solo shots. Technically, we're still in the ballgame, but we couldn't get anything going."

    Bagwell added an RBI single in the ninth, and Berkman had an RBI groundout before Kent's second homer, which gave Houston a combined eight in the first two games of the series.

    "Good weather," Kent said about the power surge. "It's better hitting on the road. Our home park is not a power park. A lot of our hitters like to drive the ball to left-center and center, and those just get chased down for outs in our park.

    "This is a hitter's park. I like this place. It allows you to be a complete hitter, not just a pull hitter."

    The Reds, who have been shut out eight times, fell a season-worst seven games under .500 for the second time this season. ^Notes: Reds OF Austin Kearns did not start after making seven in a row since coming off the disabled list on Aug. 24. ... Kent has 270 career homers as a second baseman, seven behind all-time leader Ryne Sandberg. ... The Reds allowed three consecutive homers for the second time this season. ... Houston had three consecutive homers for the first time since July 19, 2003, against the Reds at Great American Ball Park. ... Wily Mo Pena left the game with a bruised left chest after crashing into the center field wall to catch Berkman's drive that ended the sixth inning. X-rays were negative.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press