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Pence pounds out six RBIs for Astros

Pence pounds out six RBIs for Astros

MIAMI -- Suddenly, it was mid-July all over again. The Astros were getting clutch hits in bunches, wearing out the basepaths and making winning look easy.

Welcome back, Lance Berkman. And don't forget to give a big pat on the back to Hunter Pence, too.

Berkman came off the disabled list and doubled in his first two at-bats, and Pence hit a pair of three-run homers for a career-high six RBIs to lead the Astros past the Marlins, 14-6, on Wednesday night at Land Shark Stadium.

Berkman downplayed his impact on the Astros' 16-hit attack, with eight of those hits coming with runners in scoring position.

"I feel the offense exploded yesterday, too [in a 9-8 loss]," Berkman said. "I certainly had nothing to do with Hunter's two three-run homers, and Carlos [Lee] continues to swing the bat well with runners in scoring position."

The Astros, who went 6-12 while Berkman was out with a strained left calf, scored five runs in the first inning and a season-high seven in the fourth to put away the Marlins. They made sure there was no repeat of Tuesday night, when they blew a five-run lead and lost in 11 innings.

"I think we kind of ran into a buzzsaw," Marlins catcher John Baker said. "They really swung the bats well. "

Berkman rolled a double inside third base in the first inning to score Michael Bourn from second base, and he drove in Bourn again in the second inning with a sharp double to right field.

"I don't know if that was [returning to] form, but I'll take it," Berkman said. "The results were good. The first one I hit off the end of the bat and kind of had good placement down the third-base line. The second one was a better swing and a little better batsmanship, I guess you would say."

Pence hit a three-run homer off Florida starter Ricky Nolasco (8-8) in the first and another off reliever Tim Wood in the fourth. Lee went 3-for-6 with two runs scored, and Bourn went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two stolen bases. Kaz Matsui went 3-for-4 with two doubles and is now one hit shy of reaching 2,000 hits in his pro career.

Bud Norris (3-0) was the beneficiary of the offensive outburst, and he became the first Astros pitcher to win his first three starts with the team since Roger Clemens did so in 2004. He gave up 10 hits and five runs (four earned) and struck out six batters, and did not allow the Marlins to get the big innings the Astros enjoyed.

"Pretty nice start to give Bud a little cushion," manager Cecil Cooper said. "He didn't have the stuff we've seen the last couple of outings. All you've got to do is continue to pound the strike zone, and I thought he continued to attack the zone. That's what you've got to do with those guys, and every once in a while, go out of the zone and get them to chase. They haven't been doing much chasing these three games."

The Marlins had the bases loaded with one out in the second and scored twice, and they managed only one run in the third despite having the bases loaded and no outs. Hanley Ramirez hit a two-run homer off Norris in the fourth to cut the lead to 13-5.

"Not many guys can go out there in the first inning with a five-run lead, so definitely it changes your mind-set a little bit," Norris said. "Every time I go out there, I attack hitters and throw strikes. You're going to have to battle some days, and that's exactly what I did."

Berkman's tender calf was tested. He scored from second base in the first inning on Lee's RBI single, sliding home to touch the plate with his hand. He also walked twice, hit into a double play and struck out.

"No easing into it," he said. "The reason why it took me a little longer to get off the DL than I wanted -- or upper management wanted -- [is] the training staff was wise, knowing that if I go out there and do something like that right out of the chute and you're not 100 percent, you're going to get hurt again. I'm glad they made me take few more days."

Before Berkman went on the DL, Houston was on a 30-17 tear and had swept St. Louis to get within a game of the lead in the National League Central. With Berkman back, the Astros hope to duplicate that kind of success in the final 48 games.

"This was a big game for us," Berkman said. "We had a decent series against the Brewers and won two out of three, and you come in here and drop the first two, especially with Roy [Oswalt] on the mound, and you're thinking, 'Man, we're going to end up getting swept, like we did last year.' We kind of stopped the bleeding, and now we have a chance to come out tomorrow and halve the series, which isn't great, but at the same time, is not terrible either."

Brian McTaggart 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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