A sellout crowd of 41,004 at Minute Maid Park gave a hearty welcome to rookie center fielder Hunter Pence, who logged his first big-league hit, made a spectacular defensive play and was right in the middle of the action when the Astros posted nine runs in the fifth and sixth frames to put the game out of reach.
"We needed to have a game like this, where not only do we get guys on base and start driving them in, where you play a laugher and you're up big and you don't have to sweat it out," Lance Berkman said. "It's something that we needed to do and it's a step in the right direction. Obviously, we're not where we need to be. It gives you something to draw on, where, OK, we've had a tough stretch, but then we can come out of it, too."
The Astros spread 13 hits throughout the lineup. Berkman was 3-for-4 with two RBIs, while the bottom of the order -- Adam Everett and Brad Ausmus -- combined for four hits and three runs scored.
It was only one game, but for the first time in a week, the Astros exhaled.
"It's a good offensive team," Ausmus said. "Lance hasn't gotten rolling, although he got some hits tonight. Carlos [Lee] has gotten some RBIs, but he's better. Up and down the lineup, we haven't performed horribly on an individual basis -- we just haven't scored runs.
"It's not a bad offensive team. It's not the same team we had a year ago. It's just a matter of time before we start scoring runs, because the ability is there. I know in the last week or so it hasn't seemed like it, but that's one week out of a six-month baseball season."
Pence, who was called up late Friday night, singled in the sixth inning. That gave him a chance to showcase his speed, when he scored from first on Everett's double as part of a five-run sixth frame.
Pence also made a spectacular catch in center in the top of that inning, sprinting toward the warning track just to the right of the hill to rob Prince Fielder of a hit.
Pence said he felt "surprisingly calm" during his debut.
"I guess 30 different people telling me just to go out there and have fun and relax, I guess it pounded into my head," he said.
He also admitted striking out in his first at-bat helped relax him.
"It got me in the game and I felt a lot of weight off my shoulders after that," he said. "I said, 'OK, I struck out. Now, let's go and play some baseball.'"
Manager Phil Garner liked what he saw from the rookie center fielder, although he cautioned not to view Pence as the lone solution to all that's wrong with the Astros.
"It was fun watching him score from first base, but we have a few guys who can do those kinds of things," Garner said. "I want to be cautious to put it all on his shoulders, whether we come out of a week-long slump or not. Like I said last night, it's not him that's going to pull us out of it. It's Lance Berkman getting a couple hits. It's Brad Ausmus and Adam Everett at the bottom of the order. It's the guys at the top of the order doing the job, too."
It was another interesting night on the basepaths for Berkman, who was squarely in the middle of what may be the first bases-clearing rundown in Astros history.
With the bases loaded in the fifth, he sent a hard shot down the first-base line, easily scoring Chris Sampson and Craig Biggio. Assuming he had hit a double, Berkman made the turn and was halfway to second, when right fielder Bill Hart fired the ball back in.
"Anytime in my entire life that I've ever hit a ball right down the first-base line, it's been a double," Berkman said. "So you immediately just go into your, 'I'm going to second base.'"
Berkman was shocked to see shortstop J.J. Hardy with the ball.
"Honestly, my first thought was a fan had grabbed it and thrown it, because I didn't think there was any way ... the right fielder didn't even cross my mind," he said. "I was shocked when I saw the ball come in."
Berkman managed to stay in a rundown long enough for Mark Loretta to sprint home, plating the fourth run of the inning.
"Using my blazing speed and agility, I was able to get us another run," Berkman quipped.
The beneficiary of the blowout win was Sampson, who conquered his mechanical issues from his last start to hold the Brewers to one run over 6 1/3 innings.
"I kind of figured out what was making me leave the ball up and my sinker not to sink mechanically," Sampson said. "[Pitching coach] Dave Wallace and I, during the bullpen session prior to this start, really focused on that, worked some kinks out and it worked out tonight."
Said Ausmus: "When he throws well, he's got short, late movement on his sinker and slider both. And the movements of those two pitches go in opposite directions, which makes it very difficult for a hitter."
Whether this win will have any carryover effect remains to be seen, but Sampson, who along with Pence logged his first big-league hit, senses a raised confidence level after beating the Brewers in such convincing fashion.
"It is baseball, you never know -- we could go on a seven-game winning streak," he said. "This could be the start of something. It definitely raises our morale and confidence. Hopefully, we can build on it and continue to do something with it."
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.