Astros two ahead of Cubs in wild card

HOUSTON (AP) -- One swing of Jeff Bagwell's powerful bat was all
the Houston Astros needed to snap out of a dangerous funk.

Bagwell hit a two-run homer that landed on a street outside
Minute Maid Park and the Astros overcame a sloppy start, remaining
in a tie atop the NL wild-card standings with a 4-2 victory over the
Colorado Rockies on Friday night.

"Baggy is just awesome," said Craig Biggio, Bagwell's teammate
for 14 years. "Nothing he does ever surprises me."

The Astros stayed even with the San Francisco Giants, who beat
the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers 4-2 in the opener of a
three-game series. Houston, which has won a club-record 16 straight at home, moved two games ahead of the Chicago Cubs, who've lost four straight and six of seven.

Mike Gallo (2-0) earned the win by getting the last out of the
third inning, and Brad Lidge got three outs for his 28th save. They
were two of seven pitchers to hold off the Rockies for Houston's
seventh win in eight games, and 11th in 14.

"Baggy's clutch home run was the big blow and everybody was
fantastic," Lidge said. "Every game is the most important game of
the season right now."

The Astros are trying to avoid a repeat of last season, when
they needed to win three of their final four games against
last-place Milwaukee to force a division tiebreaker with the Cubs.
The Astros went 2-2 against the Brewers, allowing Chicago to
capture the NL Central title.

This year, Chicago is bolstering the Astros' playoff hopes with
a late-season swoon.

"They've got a lot of energy and their fans have a lot of
energy," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "I played on a couple
of teams like that, where you just know something good is going to

Joe Kennedy (9-7) was denied a chance at tying a career high
with his fourth straight victory, allowing four runs on eight hits
in eight innings.

Houston got off to a poor start against the lowly Rockies. Craig
Biggio badly misplayed a fly ball to left with two outs in the
first, Morgan Ensberg was caught stealing in the second and starter
Pete Munro's wild pitch allowed Clint Barmes to score in the third.

"We made mistakes early, but we recovered," Astros manager
Phil Garner said. "That's what's going to happen when you play 162
games. You don't like it, but you know it's going to happen."

The Astros got two quick outs to start their half of the inning
when Brad Ausmus popped out to first and Jason Alfaro grounded out
to short. Biggio walked in the next at-bat, Carlos Beltran doubled
and Biggio scored on Kennedy's wild pitch to tie it at 1.

Bagwell followed with his 27th homer. The ball hit the railroad
tracks in left center and bounced out of the ballpark onto Crawford

"That was big," said Bagwell, who has struggled with a
degenerative condition in his right shoulder this season. "Because
everyone knows how my arm is."

Said Kennedy: "I got it down exactly where he wants it and he
almost hit it out of the stadium. He's a good hitter. He's been
doing that for a long time."

Helton's sacrifice fly to left scored Barmes in the fifth.

The Astros scored again in the seventh, but missed a chance to
add more runs with the bases loaded. Jason Lane singled in
pinch-runner Adam Everett, Biggio doubled and Bagwell was
intentionally walked to load the bases with two outs. But Kennedy
struck out Lance Berkman on a 2-2 pitch to end the inning.

Game notes
Helton extended his hitting streak to 11 games, tying a
season high. ... The Astros have drawn 3,001,511 fans through 80
games this season, surpassing the 3 million mark for the second
time in club history. The first time came in 2000, the Astros'
first season at Minute Maid Park. ... Lidge's 153 strikeouts tied
an NL record for relievers with Philadelphia's Dick Selma in 1970.