Lilly cruises to sixth straight defeat of Astros

HOUSTON -- Ted Lilly gave the Chicago Cubs just the performance they needed after an exhausting start to their road trip.

Lilly pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings and the Cubs beat the Houston Astros 7-1 on Tuesday night. The 33-year-old left-hander allowed only three hits to beat the Astros for the sixth straight time and improve to 3-0 against them this season.

Lilly (7-4) also gave the Cubs' bullpen a break after four of the previous five games reached extra innings.

"From the starting pitchers' standpoint, we look at that as an opportunity to go out there and do our job," said Lilly, who threw 114 pitches. "There are going to be stretches where we're going to have to pick each other up."

Mike Fontenot hit a solo homer and Andres Blanco added a two-run double for the Cubs, who improved to 5-1 at Minute Maid Park this season. Their 16 hits tied a season high, first set in an 11-6 win in Houston on April 8.

"It was a good game all the way around," said Cubs manager Lou Piniella.

Lance Berkman hit his 299th career homer in the ninth off Sean Marshall to avoid the Astros' sixth shutout loss of the season.

The Cubs improved to 6-2 against Houston this season and began hammering starter Brian Moehler (2-4) in the first inning.

Alfonso Soriano doubled on the fourth pitch and scored on Kosuke Fukudome's ground-rule double that one-hopped into the stands in right. Fukudome scored on Derrek Lee's single and he later crossed home on Geovany Soto's RBI single to put the Cubs up 3-0.

Chicago had batted only .167 with runners in scoring position in the first five games of their current road trip.

"Us coming out swinging the bats like that kind of sends a message that a lot of our guys are getting their confidence back," Lilly said. "Even some of the outs we made were good at-bats."

The 37-year-old Moehler threw a complete game in Pittsburgh on May 29, allowing one run. He gave up four runs on seven hits in his last start, a 6-4 win over Colorado.

"The inconsistency is what is bothering me more than anything," Moehler said. "I will have two or three good starts and then a bad one, two or three good starts, and a bad start. That is what perplexing right now."

Lilly, who came in with only two hits in 24 at-bats in 2009, led off the second inning with his first career triple, a drive to the gap in right center. He scored when Astros second baseman Edwin Maysonet threw wildly to first on a bouncer by Fukudome.

"I had a lot of fun," Lilly said. "I didn't realize how tired I'd be running from home to third."

Fontenot led off the third with a solo homer to left, his sixth of the season, to make it 5-0. Fontenot, who turned 29 on Tuesday, has eight RBIs in his last seven games.

Brandon Backe pinch-hit for Moehler in the bottom of the third, ending Moehler's shortest start since April, when he left after 2 1/3 innings in Pittsburgh with a sprained knee.

Lilly, meanwhile, allowed only Hunter Pence's double and a walk to Backe through the first five innings.

Backe, making his third relief appearance since coming off the disabled list on May 28, escaped a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth when Theriot popped up.

The Cubs loaded the bases with two outs again in the sixth and this time, Blanco doubled to the right-field corner for a 7-0 lead.

Lilly retired 10 straight hitters before Miguel Tejada's two-out single in the Astros sixth. Lilly struck out Pence to end the inning.

"I don't even know how I missed some of his pitches," Pence said. "But he just has everything going different directions, and he is just really crafty and smart."

Aaron Heilman relieved Lilly with two outs in the seventh inning and struck out Maysonet. Heilman pitched a scoreless eighth before Marshall finished.

Game notes
Astros 2B Kaz Matsui (strained hamstring) will play for Double-A Corpus Christi between Wednesday and Saturday and will likely rejoin the lineup next week. Matsui ran the bases at Minute Maid Park before Tuesday's game. ... Cubs RHP Rich Harden will start Saturday's game against Minnesota, Piniella said. Harden, on the disabled list since May 18 with a back strain, threw 70 pitches in a rehab start for Iowa on Monday.