Astros batter Pirates with season-high four home runs

HOUSTON -- The Houston Astros turned to the long ball after their starting pitcher went down with an injury.

Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman homered for the second straight game and the Astros hit a season-high four home runs in a 6-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night.

Jeff Keppinger and Hunter Pence added solo shots for the Astros, who came in with a major-league low 50 homers this season.

"They always say they come in bunches, so we'll take 'em," Berkman said. "We've had a dearth of them to this point in the season. Any time you can get four or five home runs in a game, we'll take it."

Casey Daigle (1-1) pitched two scoreless innings in relief to earn his first victory since May 2004. Astros starter Brian Moehler left after three innings with a strained right groin.

Moehler said the injury was minor, and he'll take advantage of the upcoming All-Star break to heal carefully.

"It's nothing I'm overly concerned about," Moehler said. "It couldn't have come at a better time, with four days off and then four days after that."

Berkman has homered in three straight games, the first time he's accomplished that feat since he hit homers in four consecutive games between July 29-Aug. 2, 2007.

The slugger had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in March and said he finally feels like it's back at full strength, helping him drive balls farther.

"I've really felt comfortable all year," he said. "I think getting a little stronger on my back leg, I'm able to stay on my back side a little bit longer and that certainly helps. Other than that, you get to a certain point in the season, at some point, you've got to make a little bit of a run and hopefully, I'm starting that."

Pirates starter Daniel McCutchen (1-4) allowed three of Houston's four homers in five innings of work. McCutchen was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis after the game, the corresponding roster move after the Pirates acquired right-handed reliever Sean Gallagher.

"The few times I needed to execute a pitch, I didn't," McCutchen said. "Overall, in the big situations, they scored three runs with two outs and hit the home run. Oh well."

Keppinger extended his hitting streak to nine games with a solo homer in the first.

Berkman drew a two-out walk in the Astros' half of the third, and Lee followed with a homer to left, his 12th. Lee went 19 games and 71 at-bats without a home run before hitting a solo shot in Tuesday's 6-2 victory.

Left-hander Gustavo Chacin replaced Moehler for the fourth and Garrett Jones led off with a double. Pedro Alvarez walked before Ryan Doumit drove in Jones with a single to right to make it 3-1.

Ryan Church tied it with a double to the gap in left center, prompting boos from the sparse crowd at Minute Maid Park. Center fielder Michael Bourn made two sparkling catches to help Chacin escape further damage in the inning.

"It changed the game," Pittsburgh manager John Russell said of Bourn's defense. "We hit the ball really hard, we hit the ball right at them, and he made two great plays. It's unfortunate that we swung the bats pretty well, but we couldn't get anything out of it."

The Pirates loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth against Daigle, but Church struck out swinging. Daigle's wife, U.S. Olympic softball star Jennie Finch, attended Wednesday's game along with the couple's 4-year-old son, Ace.

"It's always special to get a big-league win," Daigle said. "On top of that, the fact that my wife and son were there, that makes it that much more special."

Berkman put the Astros ahead with a solo homer in the fifth, his 10th of the season. Berkman and Lee homered in the same game for the third time this season.

Pence led off the Astros' sixth with a homer to left off D.J. Carrasco, setting a new season high for Houston. The Astros hit three home runs in a 6-4 win over Washington on June 3.

The Astros loaded the bases in the seventh against Evan Meek, and Bourn scored from third base on a passed ball for a 6-3 lead.

Matt Lindstrom shut out the Pirates in the ninth to earn his 20th save in his 24th chance.

Game notes
Astros IF Geoff Blum underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow on Wednesday, and he is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. Blum went on the disabled list on Sunday after hurting his elbow on Thursday in San Diego. The Astros say Blum will begin range-of-motion exercises within three days. ... As a practical joke, the Astros parked RHP Bud Norris' car on the warning track in center field and decorated it with shaving cream during batting practice. LHP Tim Byrdak said Norris is trying to sell the 1996 Acura and his teammates were jokingly trying to increase its value. Norris eventually drove the car off the field. "It's not where I left it," Norris said. "I thought it was funny."