Chacon controls Cardinals in opener

Chacon controls Cardinals in opener

ST. LOUIS -- For a team that started out so poorly -- especially on the road -- the Astros have certainly made up for lost time.

They climbed to one game over the .500 mark on the road with an 8-2 win over the Cardinals Tuesday night, improving to 15-14 on the road, en route to their 30th win of the season. That pushed them into a tie with the Cardinals for second place in the National League Central division.

The Astros gave Shawn Chacon a four-run lead before he even took the mound for the first time, a rare luxury he appreciated but was a bit wary of as well.

"We came out, got on top right away," Chacon said. "It's always funny because as a starting pitcher, you know when you jump ahead right away before you're even out there, it's difficult to find that fine line between staying aggressive and still trying to pitch your game plan and make your pitches. Tonight, I was able to do that."

Chacon, who started the season with nine consecutive no-decisions, improved to 2-0 after holding St. Louis to two runs over seven innings.

"I guess we can't put "ND" in there anymore," manager Cecil Cooper said, referring to the nickname "No Decision" he gave Chacon through his streak. "He's pitched well for us all year. He had one shaky outing against Arizona three starts ago. Other than that, he's kept us in every ballgame and gave us a chance. That's all you want out of your starting pitcher."

Chacon yielded two solo homers -- one to Albert Pujols in the fourth, and one to pinch-hitter Brian Barton in the fifth. Moreover, he didn't issue a single walk, which was in stark contrast to his last start in St. Louis on April 25, when he issued six free passes to Cardinals batters.

"I think they were probably expecting me to do something like that again," Chacon said. "To me, from the mound, I noticed they took a lot of fastballs. Maybe that was a case of them expecting me to not be around the zone. Tonight [catcher] J.R. [Towles] noticed that right away and really kept me locked in."

Just as locked in was the offense, which produced 12 hits against five Cardinals pitchers. Not so shockingly, Lance Berkman set another club record, one of many since he began his season-long assault on opposing pitchers. He scored three runs to bring his May total to 30, passing Jimmy Wynn, who scored 27 runs in May of 1969.

Berkman was just one of many Astros to contribute. Hunter Pence logged a career-high five hits, including a fifth-inning double. He drove in two runs with a base hit in the first and added an RBI single in the third.

"Hunter's starting to come to life," Cooper said. "We said this about two weeks ago -- he's starting to kind of wake up a little bit and he's swinging the bat like he's capable of. He's putting some good swings on some good pitches. When Hunter hits the ball through the middle and the right side, you know Hunter's right. He's starting to do that."

Pence has raised his average 61 points in the last month. He was batting .250 on April 30, and after his five-hit performance Tuesday, he's hitting .311.

"I don't think about that," Pence said when asked about his average. "It feels good to get a win. I always say that."

"We knew this guy was going to hit," said Cooper. "He's starting to have consistent at-bats and that's all he has to do."

Michael Bourn and Kazuo Matsui set up the Astros' big first frame, logging back-to-back hits and advancing on a long fly ball from Miguel Tejada. Berkman walked, and Carlos Lee drove in two runs with a base hit to center.

Tejada knocked a two-run homer in the fifth, while Towles drew a bases-loaded walk off former Astros pitcher Russ Springer to cap a three-run frame.

"Everyone in the lineup has a good chance to help us out," Pence said. "Everyone is a threat, one through eight. As soon as one guy gets a hit, the next guy coming up, you can't really pitch around him because the guy behind him can hit."

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