Aurilia carries Reds past Astros, closer to Cardinals

CINCINNATI -- Rich Aurilia's first two hits didn't make it out of the infield. His third was a double that conveniently landed just inside the foul line.

In his fourth at-bat, he still had a little luck left.

Aurilia got a hanging slider on his first pitch in the eighth
inning, and connected for a three-run homer that rallied the
Cincinnati Reds to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Monday

The pitch from reliever Chad Qualls provided a fitting finish to
his 4-for-4 night.

"It was a slider," Aurilia said. "It didn't do much."

Royce Clayton's run-scoring single later in the eighth completed
the comeback and tightened the NL Central. Second-place Cincinnati
moved two games behind idle St. Louis, staying in contention with a
retooled roster and a lot of late comebacks.

"This is a resilient bunch," Aurilia said. "It's a lot of
fun. Nobody ever gives up. It says a lot about the guys on the team
-- even the new guys. It's been like a revolving door all season,
but we keep getting the same type of people."

The Reds have morphed into a contender by remaking their roster
during the season -- 13 of the current 25 players were obtained
since spring training -- and by doing some of their best hitting in
the last innings.

Aurilia's homer and Clayton's single off Qualls (4-3) gave the
Reds their eighth win of the season when they trailed after seven

"It's a shame we were not able to pull this one off," said
left-hander Andy Pettitte, who turned a 2-0 lead over to the Astros
bullpen in the sixth. "They've been playing extremely well and
coming back late in games all year."

By contrast, the Astros lost for the eighth time in 10 games,
unable to get anything other than solo homers. Aubrey Huff hit two
of them, and Lance Berkman also connected off Bronson Arroyo.

Willy Taveras extended his hitting streak to 24 games with a
game-opening bunt single, then got caught stealing on the next
pitch -- a sign that things wouldn't come easy for an Astros offense
that is often all-or-nothing.

"I can't explain that," manager Phil Garner said. "We've been
down that road probably -- how many games have we played, 125? We've
probably had 100 games like this. I don't have an explanation."

Ryan Franklin (4-6) pitched a perfect eighth to get the win, and
newcomer Scott Schoeneweis got the last three outs for his first
save. The Reds are using a collection of relievers to close games
while Eddie Guardado is on the disabled list with a sore forearm.

The no-decision left Arroyo stuck in a two-month rut. The
All-Star has only one victory in his last 12 starts, the result of
misfortune and mistakes that prompted him to briefly change his
hairstyle for luck.

Again Monday, there was no such luck. He gave up only five hits,
including solo homers by Berkman and Huff, but left trailing 2-0
after six innings.

"It was tough to come out," Arroyo said. "I felt so good. A
game like that, you have so much energy. It felt like the game went
by in 2 seconds."

It dragged for Pettitte, who matched his season high by fanning
10 batters in 5 1/3 scoreless innings before leaving after his
118th pitch. He allowed six hits and escaped bases-loaded threats
in the second and third innings, hiking his pitch count.

Then, he played spectator to another nasty loss.

"They're tough, that's for sure," Pettitte said. "There has
been a lot of heartbreak games this year. We did that the last few
years to teams."

Berkman led off the second inning with his 34th homer, adding to
his history of success against Cincinnati. His 12 homers at Great
American Ball Park are the most by any visiting player, and his 35
career homers against Cincinnati are a personal best.

Huff also homered off Arroyo, who has given up a career-high 28
this season, second-most in the NL. Huff added another solo shot,
his seventh, off Rheal Cormier in the seventh.

Game Notes
It was Huff's second two-homer game of the season and the
sixth of his career. ... Taveras' streak is one shy of Jeff Kent's
club record, 25 games in 2004. ... The longest hitting streak in
the NL this season was by Philadelphia's Chase Utley, who hit in 35
straight. ... LHP Chris Michalak is expected back in time to make
his scheduled start on Wednesday against the Astros. He returned to
his native Joliet, Ill., after the death of his 102-year-old
grandmother, who will be buried on Tuesday.