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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.