Paulino dominates Tigers in DL return

Paulino dominates Tigers in DL return

HOUSTON -- The Astros went into Saturday having played four straight one-run games, but Houston's bats made sure that number didn't reach five.

The Astros scored five runs in the third inning, backing starter Felipe Paulino, who struck out a career-high nine and pitched a career-high seven innings. Paulino gave up just three hits, and the Astros didn't allow a batter to reach base after the fourth inning, defeating the Detroit Tigers, 8-1, at Minute Maid Park.

"Tonight was about Felipe Paulino," Astros manager Cecil Cooper said. "He did a great job and was pretty dominant from the start. He showed right from the first pitch that he was ready to go."

A solo home run by Ramon Santiago in the third inning was the only blemish on Paulino's night. Making his first since June 7 after being on the disabled list with a strained right groin, the right-hander found his groove early.

Paulino (2-4) struck out six in the first three innings and would go on to retire the last 10 batters he faced in order to earn his first victory as a starter in his ninth start this season. His other win came as a reliever against Atlanta on May 2.

"It was a good for me," Paulino said. "I tried to focus on every pitch and make a good pitch every time to every hitter. My tempo was good. I didn't give much time for the hitter."

With Paulino dealing, second baseman Kazuo Matsui and center fielder Michael Bourn provided Houston with plenty of offense.

Leading, 2-1, the Astros put a five-spot on the board in the third inning to break the game open. Back-to-back doubles by Lance Berkman and Hunter Pence extended Houston's lead to 5-1. Berkman delivered a shot to deep center field, bouncing the ball up onto Tal's Hill to score two runs. The first baseman then stole third base in front of Pence's double down the left-field line. Matsui then put the exclamation point on the inning, hitting a two-run blast over the right-field wall for his second homer of the season that gave the Astros a 7-1 lead.

"The bats finally came alive, and we didn't have to sweat it out," Cooper said. "We've kind of been sweating out some of these wins. I thought a lot of guys contributed and swung the bats well, and we finally broke one open for a change."

After making an impressive Major League debut a week ago against the Milwaukee Brewers, Tigers starter Alfredo Figaro, whose fastball reached 99 mph on the stadium's radar gun at times, was touched up for eight runs (seven earned) on 10 hits.

The Astros struck for a run off Figaro in their first at-bat. Bourn hit a leadoff single in the bottom of the first and stole his National League-leading 25th base before coming around to score the game's first run on Carlos Lee's single.

Bourn, who had three hits on the night, put the Astros up, 2-0, with an RBI single in the second inning, driving in Matsui. After Matsui crossed the plate, Bourn was caught in a lengthy rundown between first and second where he changed direction five times. He was finally tagged out diving back into first base by Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, who also had to leave his feet to tag the speedy outfielder on his leg. The putout was officially recorded as 9-3-6-4-3-6-5, and Bourn received a standing ovation for his effort.

"It took a lot out of me," Bourn said. "I got tired, but I managed to get through it. I tried to stay in the rundown and try to get out of it somehow, and I almost did, but they got me at the last bit. It was just something I [did] and [it] gave the crowd some excitement."

Houston added a run in the sixth to make it 8-1 with a Jeff Keppinger RBI groundout that brought home catcher Humberto Quintero.

Relievers Jeff Fulchino and Wesley Wright picked up right where Paulino left off, tossing flawless innings in the eighth and ninth to give Houston its longest winning streak since winning a season-high four straight from May 31-June 3. A win Sunday would tie that mark and move the Astros back to .500 at home.

"We've been playing pretty good ball lately," Bourn said. "We've been trying to win series. We talk about that in the locker room and the dugout, and it's been paying off for us. Our focus has been pretty good, and we'll try to come out [Sunday] and complete the series."

Jason Grodsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.