Dunn, Reds rock Astros to pull one back of Cards

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A crushing comeback, a big blowout. The Cincinnati Reds are winning every which way these days.

And some of the folks trying to catch them are starting to feel the futility of the chase.

Adam Dunn's three-run homer completed an eight-run third inning Tuesday night that swept the Reds to their fourth straight victory, 14-0 over the fading Houston Astros.

Cincinnati hit four homers in all -- Scott Hatteberg also had a three-run shot -- during its most lopsided victory of the season.

The Reds are on their best surge since they won their first four games after the All-Star break, keeping them in front of the pack of wild-card contenders. The latest win moved them a game behind first-place St. Louis in the NL Central, their smallest deficit since July 3.

"The way those guys are playing now, they have to be the favorite," Lance Berkman said, referring to the wild-card race. "They're a very resilient team. They're playing better as a team than they are individually. They have a knack of winning baseball games. That's something special you can't put your finger on."

Everything they did on Tuesday turned out special.

Right-hander Kyle Lohse (1-0) gave up four hits in eight innings and had three of his own, getting his first victory and his biggest ovations since arriving in a July 31 trade with the Twins. Lohse had only four career hits heading into the game.

"Everything's looking up, looking good," said Lohse, who has a 1.65 ERA in four starts for Cincinnati. "I like it here."

After rallying in the eighth inning for a 4-3 victory in the series opener, the Reds got this one in hand early by taking advantage of rookie right-hander Jason Hirsh (1-2), rocked in his third big-league appearance.

Dunn started the eight-run inning with a single off Hirsh and finished it with his 38th homer deep into the right-field stands off Dave Borkowski. Hirsh, a second-round draft pick in June 2003, gave up 10 runs in only 2 2/3 innings.

"We put some hits together, and it just kind of snowballed," said Hatteberg, who drove in four overall.

The eight-run inning matched Cincinnati's biggest of the season -- it also had one during a 10-5 win in Atlanta on July 7.

"It's painful to watch them tattoo everything we threw up there," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "They hit some good pitches and absolutely mauled some of the pitches we made mistakes on."

It was another demoralizing loss for the Astros, who reached the World Series for the first time last season and got swept by the Chicago White Sox. Houston started this season with a 19-9 run, only to come apart.

The Astros have lost nine of their last 11, tumbling to a season-low eight games under .500 at 59-67. The latest loss was their worst since an 18-3 defeat at Texas on May 21 last season.

Now, it's going to take a strong finish just to finish at .500.

"It is going to be difficult to do, but that's what we've got to shoot for," Garner said. "Nobody's giving up on anything, but we've got to get there first."

Cincinnati has dominated the defending NL champions, going 9-2 this season. Two of the wins have been by 11 and 13 runs.

The only bright spot for Houston was Willy Taveras' infield single in the third inning, which extended his hitting streak to 25 games and matched Jeff Kent's club record from 2004.

Hirsh learned the hard way what happens when a pitcher makes mistakes in the majors' most homer-friendly ballpark. Brandon Phillips hit a solo homer in the second, and Hatteberg's three-run shot made it 4-0.

The Reds then chased him in the third by stringing together five hits and a pair of walks. Hirsh retired only seven of the 21 batters he faced and threw 80 pitches -- only 44 strikes -- in his brief stint.

David Ross also homered off Borkowski, making it 13-0 in the fourth. Both teams started substituting liberally after the inning.

Game notes
Slumping second baseman Craig Biggio batted sixth, the first time since Sept. 29, 1990, that he hit lower than third in the Astros' order. He went 0-for-2, leaving him in a 1-for-16 slump on the trip. ... In two starts and one relief appearance, Hirsh has given up 17 earned runs in 12 innings with six homers. ... It was the Reds' most lopsided win since a 17-3 victory over Arizona on Aug. 19 last season.