Berkman's HR Leads Astros Past Reds

CINCINNATI (AP) - Might as well call it Berkman's Ballpark.
Lance Berkman hit his 18th homer at Great American Ball Park -
the most by any visiting player - and drove in three runs Thursday,
leading the Houston Astros to their fifth straight win, 5-3 over
the Cincinnati Reds.
Berkman had a two-run homer and a run-scoring double off rookie
Johnny Cueto (1-2), whose 96 mph fastball wasn't enough to slow the
Astros' surging offense or get the Reds out of their slump.
They just can't stop Berkman from hitting homers in their own
yard.
"Somebody's got to have the most," Berkman said of his
distinction. "It might as well be me."
With Berkman playing his familiar role, the Astros extended
their best streak in a year.
Houston hadn't won five in a row since April 16-20 last season.
The Astros have piled up 41 runs during the five-game surge. Even
right-hander Jack Cassel (1-0) got involved, adding a run-scoring
single for his first career RBI.
Cueto, a 22-year-old right-hander facing the Astros for the
first time, learned what every other Cincinnati pitcher already
knew: No one causes the Reds as much heartache as Berkman.
The first baseman has more career homers (42) and RBIs (120)
against the Reds than any other team. Hardly a series against
Cincinnati goes by when he doesn't decide a game with a clutch hit
or two.
Now Cueto knows, too.
"Since I've been here, he just crushes it here," Astros
outfielder Hunter Pence said. "Some places you see the ball
better, and I'm sure this place is like that for him."
Berkman hit a two-run homer in the first inning, his sixth of
the season. Berkman's two-out, run-scoring double in the fifth made
it 5-3. He later singled for his third hit of the game, raising his
career batting average at Great American to .360.
"I usually feel horrible at Wrigley Field," Berkman said. "I
feel great here. I can't explain it. That's the game of baseball.
It's a statistical anomaly."
Cueto gave up eight hits - the most in any of his five starts -
and five runs in seven innings. Asked if it amounted to a learning
experience, he said through a translator: "You're right. Next time
is going to be better."
One thing's sure: Next time he'll be more careful with Berkman.
"They whacked the ball around pretty good when they needed
it," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "His stuff wasn't as sharp,
but he pitched well enough to keep us in the game."
Cassel, called up from Triple-A to make his first start of the
season, gave up three runs and seven hits over five-plus innings
against a lineup struggling to find its stride. Jose Valverde
pitched a perfect ninth for his third save in six chances.
"After the first couple of innings, I was able to settle
down," said Cassel, who made his big-league debut in Cincinnati
last year with San Diego. "When Lance came up with that double,
you could feel a lift in the dugout confidence, and I just fed off
of that."
The loss completed a jolting 2-5 homestand for the Reds, who at
9-14 are off to their worst start in five years. They fired general
manager Wayne Krivsky on Wednesday, then lost their next two under
replacement Walt Jocketty.
Cincinnati has dropped 10 of its last 13 overall, falling into
last place in the NL Central.
"We're a lot better than we're playing," said Adam Dunn,
batting .209 after his 0-for-4 performance. "That's the
frustrating part. Everybody talks about how early it is, but it's
not early anymore."
Houston has been particularly tough on Cincinnati, winning its
last six games against the Reds from the end of last season. The
Astros have gone 10-1 at Great American over the last two seasons.
Ken Griffey Jr. had a run-scoring single off Cassel, but
remained at 597 career homers. The Reds play their next nine games
in San Francisco, St. Louis and Atlanta. Griffey's 200th, 300th,
400th and 500th homers came in road games.
Notes: Pence extended his hitting streak to seven games
(13-for-26). ... Pittsburgh's Jason Bay has the second-most homers
by a visitor at Great American - 13. The ballpark opened in 2003.
... Berkman's homer was his 1,300th career hit. He's the seven
player in Astros history to reach the mark. ... Cassel's RBI was
the first by an Astros pitcher this season. ... Reds 3B Edwin
Encarnacion extended his hitting streak to a career-high 14 games.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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