Pence's two homers keep Astros in bunched NL Central race

Hero: Pence recorded his first career multihomer game by hitting a three-run shot in the fourth and a two-run bomb in the sixth.

Heating up: The Astros have won three straight and four of their last five.

Figure this: Rodriguez (8-12), who entered 0-3 with an 11.08 ERA at Wrigley Field, threw six scoreless innings, improving his record to 2-9 on the road this season.

Quotable: "What can I say? He's a pretty special player. He's a young man who will eventually be the face of our franchise, I think." -- Astros manager Cecil Cooper on Pence

-- ESPN.com news services

Astros 6, Cubs 1

CHICAGO (AP) -- Hunter Pence is making Cecil Cooper's transition a lot easier.

Houston's rookie center fielder hit two homers and had a career-high five RBIs Friday to help the Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 for their third win in four games since Cooper became interim manager.

"What can I say? He's a pretty special player. He's a young man who will eventually be the face of our franchise, I think," Cooper said.

"He's not afraid to go up there [and] if he sees something he likes, he lets it go. Just a baseball player, a throwback kind of a baseball player. ... He's my kind of guy."

Pence's first career multihomer game featured a three-run shot in the fourth and two-run drive in the sixth. The homers gave the standout rookie 14 for the season, while helping Wandy Rodriguez (8-12) win for the first time since July 26.

Cooper replaced the fired Phil Garner on Monday. And with a month left in the season, Houston is 13 games under .500 but only eight games back of the first-place Cubs in what is becoming a tightly bunched NL Central.

"It seems tough, but we haven't given up. You've seen the last couple seasons that we're capable to make a run," Pence said. "Right now we're running out of time, so we got to play with as much urgency as possible. "

One change Cooper made was to put Pence in the leadoff spot the last three games. He's gone 5-for-11, and the Astros have won all three games.

"Maybe one day he'll end up hitting in a different spot. But right now he fits for us. I think he sets the tone a little bit for us by his aggressive style," Cooper said.

"I enjoy leading off. I just enjoy playing," Pence said. "Fortunately I've been successful there."

Rodriguez, who'd been 0-3 in six previous August starts, allowed four hits and earned a rare road victory. He is 2-9 away from Minute Maid Park and 6-3 at home.

"He shut us down," Derrek Lee said. "We couldn't get anything going. It's a little frustrating."

Chicago broke up the shutout bid in the eighth when pinch-hitter Daryle Ward had an RBI single, one of three straight hits in the inning off Dave Borkowski.

Trever Miller got the final out in the eighth and pitched a perfect ninth.

Pence, who came off the disabled list 10 days ago, hit his second homer of the game in the sixth off Cubs reliever Michael Wuertz.

His two-out, three-run homer off Sean Marshall capped a fourth that started when third baseman Aramis Ramirez fumbled Ty Wigginton's grounder for an error. After Chris Burke singled, Marshall got two outs before Pence hit a long drive to left for a 4-0 lead.

"Wuertz and I both gave him a pitch to hit up in the zone and he did a good job of it, even with the wind blowing in," Marshall said.

After Craig Biggio singled and Lance Berkman walked, Marshall's day was over and Wuertz relieved. Marshall (7-7) gave up four runs -- one earned- and five hits in 3 2/3 innings, his third shortest outing in 18 starts.

"You can see why we've gone out and gotten a veteran pitcher who's been through this before," Cubs manager Lou Piniella said, referring to the team's acquisition Friday of Steve Trachsel from Baltimore for the stretch run.

Piniella said it'll be a modified six-man rotation with Trachsel instead of dropping someone out. But he wasn't pleased Friday with the pitching of Marshall or his team's inability to hit. The Cubs began the day with a 2 1/2-game lead in the division.

"You are not going to hit every day. That I can tell you," Piniella said. "But down the stretch we are going to have to swing the bats with more consistency. There's no question."

Houston also had a big inning going in the first, but Marshall allowed only one run after the Astros loaded the bases. Pence had a leadoff walk and scored on Berkman's one-out RBI double. Carlos Lee was walked intentionally and one out later Wigginton also walked to load the bases before Burke popped out.

Game notes
The Cubs rested LF Alfonso Soriano, and C Jason Kendall didn't start but entered the game in the eighth. ... Houston RHP Brandon Backe, who had elbow surgery last September, is scheduled to make his first start of the season Tuesday in Milwaukee. He has made five rehab starts for Triple-A Round Rock. ... Rodriguez is 1-3 at Wrigley Field where he had an 11.08 ERA in three previous starts entering the game. Earlier this month, he pitched well against the Cubs in Houston, allowing a run and four hits over eight innings but getting a no-decision ... The Cubs are 13-21 against left-handed starters.