Astros answer behind Burke, Pettitte

Astros answer behind Burke, Pettitte

HOUSTON -- Rookie Chris Burke scanned the bottom half of the lineup card Sunday morning and didn't see his name. Burke wasn't surprised, since the Astros were facing a right-handed starter.

"I figured I wasn't starting, but as I walked by I happened to see my name [in the three slot] and I did a double take," Burke said.

Burke, inserted into the third spot in the batting order for the first time in his Major League career, tied a career high with three extra-base hits, including a three-run homer, to back the pitching of Andy Pettitte as the Astros beat Milwaukee, 8-3, Sunday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

"Well, let's just say I wanted to give him a shot in that slot," Astros manager Phil Garner said. "He's been used to hitting in the top of the lineup most of his career so I decided to give him a shot at it since I didn't have Morgan [Ensberg] in the lineup. He did a good job."

Burke was a shot in the arm to a Houston offense that had scored two runs or less in six of its eight previous contests.

The win kept Houston within one-half game of Philadelphia for first place in the National League Wild Card race. The Astros split the four-game set with the Brewers, and finished their longest homestand of the season with a 6-7 record.

Burke smoked an 0-1 fastball from Milwaukee starter Victor Santos (4-12) for his third home run of the year. Burke's third-inning shot to left scored Willy Taveras and Craig Biggio to give the Astros a 5-0 lead and came after Burke was unable to get a bunt down on the first pitch from Santos.

"They probably figured with Lance [Berkman] up next I was going to be bunting again," Burke said. "I was able to get the bat on [the ball] and, fortunately, was able to hit it well."

"I don't know whether I'm going to fine him or not for not getting the bunt down," Garner said. "We'll think about that one."

Burke doubled and scored in both the fourth and sixth innings, and finished the day 3-for-4 with three runs scored. He walked his final time up.

"Phil showed a lot of confidence in me," Burke said. "When somebody does that, you want to come through for them."

Burke turned to Jeff Bagwell for some advice on hitting third before the game. The all-time leading home run hitter in franchise history obliged.

"He touched me for good luck," Burke said. "I guess it rubbed off."

Pettitte (11-9) pitched seven innings and allowed both Brewers runs on four hits. The left-hander struck out six and walked two.

"I thought he threw the ball good, he didn't have his good control, but I thought he had good finish on his ball," Garner said.

Pettitte had one rough inning but managed to escape major damage. Once staked to the lead, Pettitte never let the Brewers get any closer than two runs down.

"They've got a real strong lineup," Pettitte said. "A lot of power throughout, so you never feel real comfortable."

The Astros increased their lead to 7-2 in the fourth as Jason Lane was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Jose Vizcaino contributed an RBI single.

The Astros had gone ahead, 2-0, in the second when Adam Everett unloaded his 10th home run of the year with Berkman aboard.

After Pettitte held the Brewers hitless through three, Geoff Jenkins put the visitors on the board in the fourth with a two-run double to the hill in center field.

Santos gave up seven runs on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.

For the Astros, the win took some of the disappointment out of a difficult homestand.

"Obviously, we didn't have the homestand we wanted to have, but we're still right there [in the Wild Card race]," Pettitte said.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.