<
>

Matt Downs' 2-run single launches Astros over Cubs

HOUSTON -- Slogging through a terrible season, the Houston Astros will make no apologies for being excited about a two-game winning streak.

Matt Downs hit a go-ahead two-run single, Mark Melancon wriggled out of a jam in the ninth inning and the Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 4-3 on Wednesday to take the series between the worst teams in NL Central.

Brian Bogusevic, who hit a game-winning grand slam for Houston on Tuesday night, had a two-run double in the third inning against Casey Coleman, who was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to replace Carlos Zambrano in the rotation.

"It feels good," Bogusevic said. "We've been struggling the last couple weeks and to win two in a row and win a series is kind of a little boost for us."

After a pair of exciting wins, the Astros were ready to play again on Thursday's off day.

"I told somebody we need to schedule a game tomorrow, because we're hot," Melancon said. "This is fun."

Bud Norris (6-8) allowed three runs and six hits in his first win since July 6. The right-hander was 0-1 with a 3.91 ERA in his previous four starts.

"He probably didn't have his best stuff, but he was able to work through it," Houston manager Brad Mills said.

Aramis Ramirez hit a two-run homer and Geovany Soto had a solo shot for the Cubs, who had won four straight series. Ramirez, Soto and Darwin Barney each had two hits.

Chicago went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

"We missed opportunities all day long," manager Mike Quade said. "Casey wasn't really sharp, but he kept us hanging around and the bullpen did another great job, but you just can't have that many opportunities go by and not take advantage of them. We had folks up and down the lineup with chances today. We just didn't get it done."

The Cubs' last shot came in the ninth, when Barney hit a leadoff single against Melancon and moved to third on Ramirez's perfectly placed grounder up the middle.

Melancon retired Carlos Pena on a popup before pinch-runner Tony Campana swiped second to put runners on second and third with one out. Soto then tapped to shortstop Clint Barmes, who threw to third to catch Barney in a rundown. Marlon Byrd grounded out to end the game, giving Melancon his 12th save.

"I felt like I got three saves out there, all in one -- the first little bloop in the infield and then the next two grounders," Melancon joked.

Coleman (2-5) allowed four runs and a career-high 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings while filling in for Zambrano, who was placed on the disqualified list Saturday following a meltdown in Atlanta last week when he talked about retirement and left the team.

"When you're in the fourth inning and you have that many hits, it puts you in a hole," Coleman said. "I need to show people that I can go out there and compete."

Ramirez extended his major league lead by hitting his 11th first-pitch home run of the season in the third, a drive to left-center that gave Chicago a 2-0 lead. It was his second consecutive game with a home run and the 40th of his career against the Astros.

Bogusevic's sharp grounder down the right-field line tied it, but Soto connected in the fourth to put the Cubs in front again.

The Astros responded in the bottom half. With two out and a runner on first, Jose Altuve singled, J.B. Shuck took third on a wild pitch and J.D. Martinez walked to load the bases.

Downs then singled to center to give Houston a 4-3 lead.

The Astros didn't get another hit after the fourth inning and Chicago's relievers retired 10 in a row after Jason Michaels walked with two outs in the fifth.

Chicago hit back-to-back two-out singles in the eighth inning, but Starlin Castro grounded out to end the scoring threat.

Norris hit Barney to start the fifth inning before loading the bases with consecutive walks to Ramirez and Pena. But the Cubs came away with nothing when Norris retired the next three batters, striking out two.

Game notes
The Cubs optioned LHP Scott Maine to Iowa to make room for Coleman. Maine was recalled from Iowa on Monday, but did not make an appearance before being sent back to Triple-A. ... Houston OF Jordan Schafer, on the disabled list since July 20 with an injured left middle finger, started a rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City on Wednesday. If his rehabilitation goes well, he could join Houston on Monday in Colorado. Schafer was acquired from Atlanta in the Michael Bourn trade. ... Both teams are off Thursday before Houston hosts the San Francisco Giants and the Cubs host the St. Louis Cardinals. ... Ramirez has 22 home runs and 63 RBIs at Minute Maid Park, which rank first among opposing players.