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Berkman stays hot in Astros' victory

Berkman stays hot in Astros' victory

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hours after winning the National League Player of the Week Award for the second time this year, Lance Berkman continued his torrid pace, logging three hits including a game-tying home run that contributed to the Astros' 7-3 win over the Giants on Monday at AT&T Park.

Berkman is hitting a staggering .605 (26-for-43) through his 11-game hitting streak. He fell a triple short of the cycle in his latest performance while raising his season batting average to a team-leading .393.

Berkman's hitting spree isn't the only thing the Astros are getting accustomed to. Late-game comebacks are becoming the norm as well, and with this win, the Astros improved to 5-1 in games when they're tied after six innings.

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"As a starting staff, I've been telling guys, if you can keep it close, six, seven innings, you've got a chance to win the game," said Roy Oswalt, who held the Giants to three runs over eight innings to improve to 4-3. "If you can stay in there six innings, give up one or two runs, the cavalry's coming."

Barry Zito, still looking for his first win of the season, thwarted the Astros through the first five innings. He also had the rare luxury of pitching with run support, provided by a Fred Lewis RBI double and an Omar Vizquel RBI double in the third and a solo homer by John Bowker in the fourth.

But the Astros put together another late-game rally, started by Hunter Pence, who led off the sixth with a base hit. He advanced to third on Mark Loretta's base hit up the middle and scored on a sacrifice fly from Miguel Tejada.

Berkman unloaded his 13th homer of the season, his third from the right side of the plate, to tie the game at 3. Pence drove in the go-ahead run in the seventh with a sacrifice fly, scoring Jose Cruz Jr.

Asked whether he felt any trepidation about facing such a hot hitter in that situation, Zito said, "No. You just have to make pitches. A 3-1 changeup, not a bad selection, if you get it down in the zone. It was on the black, away. It was just up."

The Astros have 12 come-from-behind wins this year, including their last two.

"They don't quit; they keep playing," manager Cecil Cooper said. "That's what I keep saying. They keep playing, we keep getting big hits. Big Puma [Berkman] got another one tonight and kind of jump-started us, got us going a little bit."

Like the Astros' lineup, Oswalt also improved as the game progressed. After Bowker's homer in the fourth, the ace right-hander retired 14 straight.

"The last three innings, instead of trying to pitch to contact, I quit pitching to contact," Oswalt said. "It seems like every game, I get in counts 2-1, 3-1, 3-0. Just kind of pitching for contact instead of pitching to beat a guy in the zone."

Oswalt recorded five strikeouts in his final three innings of work.

"I'm going to go right at them," he said. "I felt a lot better the last three innings."

Things got a bit out of hand in the eighth when reliever Keiichi Yabu entered the game with the bases loaded and one out. Yabu attempted a pickoff throw to first but Bowker appeared to not be ready for the throw. Instead, he nearly tripped over a diving Cruz trying to snare the ball, which trickled in the direction of the Astros' bullpen down the right-field line.

Carlos Lee scored easily on the play, and Ty Wigginton raced home as well. Second baseman Eugenio Velez made a throw home with about the same accuracy as the previous play, allowing Cruz to reach third.

"That was kind of chaotic," Cruz said. "[Bowker] stepped on me, I think. I kind of saw the pitcher out of the corner of my eye, kind of throwing my way. The guy kind of stepped on me. I saw the ball rolling. It was crazy. It all happened really fast. I don't know what was going on, to tell you the truth. The ball ended up in the bullpen, so I started running."

Said Giants manager Bruce Bochy: "I think [Yabu] saw the guy wandering off first base and thought he had an easy out. There was no play on or anything. He just got sloppy there."

The win evened the Astros' road record to 11-11 and pushed them to a season-high five games over .500. They've won all four road games to begin their 10-game trip, which began with a three-game sweep over the Dodgers.

"We're doing well right now," Berkman said. "We're playing good baseball. Roy kept us in the game and offensively we hung around until we got a few opportunities. You try not to analyze it too much. You just want to try to win as many games as you can when you're playing well."

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

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