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Pence powers Astros past Marlins

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MIAMI (AP)

Lance Berkman provided a big boost in his return to the Houston Astros lineup. Hunter Pence gave them an even bigger lift - twice. Pence hit a pair of three-run homers for a career-high six RBIs, powering the Astros to a 14-6 victory over the Florida Marlins on Wednesday night. Struggling recently, the homers were a welcome sign for Pence. "You play enough games eventually you will do something good if you keep swinging hard," Pence said. Pence's home runs highlighted a five-run first inning and a seven-run fourth that chased Ricky Nolasco (8-8). Florida had won five in a row. Berkman hit two RBI doubles in his first game in almost three weeks. He was activated earlier in the day after being on the disabled list with a strained left calf, and the difference he made in the lineup was felt immediately. "He's a big factor for us," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "And we need him to be effective." Bud Norris (3-0) struck out six in five innings. He became the first pitcher to win his first three starts with Houston since Roger Clemens won his first seven in 2004. NL batting leader Hanley Ramirez hit his 17th home run of the season and added a double for the Marlins. Not even free-swinging Florida could outslug the Astros on this night. Pence's homer capped the big first inning. Berkman hit his second RBI double of the game in the second to put the Astros ahead 6-0. But they were just getting started. Pence hit another shot over the left-field scoreboard in the fourth, this time off reliever Tim Wood. Lee added a two-run single earlier in the inning, and by the time it was over, the Astros were ahead 13-3. "Those guys make you pitch," Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "We just couldn't get through those innings. It happens. We go out (Thursday) and still have a chance to win the series. That's what we always talk about." The Astros are finally starting to get healthy after weeks of injuries, and they hope it's not too late to get back in playoff contention. Berkman and reliever LaTroy Hawkins (left shoulder strain) were activated off the disabled list before the game. And three starting pitches - Roy Oswalt, Mike Hampton and Wandy Rodriguez - are all healthy again after being injured in the last few weeks. Time for making a playoff push is running out. "All kidding aside, this was a big win for us," Berkman said. "If we're going to do anything this year, we have to do it now. It's not early anymore." Florida piled up 13 hits and has had at least 10 hits in a club-record nine straight games. But it's the Marlins' starting pitching - considered a strength for most of the year - that has been slumping lately. "It's tough to dig yourself out of those holes," Marlins catcher John Baker said. "We've been doing it lately, making comebacks, but it's tough to do it every night." The Marlins scattered runs throughout, with Ramirez's two-run homer to straightaway center trimming Houston's lead to 13-5 in the fourth. The Astros never relented, with Geoff Blum's eighth home run of the season stretching their lead to 14-5 in the eighth. Chris Coghlan extended his hitting streak to 11 games with an RBI single in the bottom half. NOTES: The Marlins optioned Wood to Triple-A New Orleans after the game and will fill his spot on the roster Thursday, the team said. ... Hampton (right knee) will make his regularly scheduled start Thursday in the finale of the four-game series against the Marlins, Cooper said. Hampton left Saturday's start against Milwaukee after two innings with a sprain in his right knee. ... Pence's previous single-game career high for RBIs was five against the Chicago Cubs on Aug. 31, 2007.
Tagged: Astros, Marlins

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