published Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Braves lose; Pence has four RBIs for Astros

HOUSTON — Hunter Pence returned from a day off and homered and drove in four runs Monday night as the Houston Astros snapped a four-game skid with an 8-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Pence missed a game for the first time this season Sunday while dealing with tightness in his lower back. He said before Monday’s game that he felt great and then quickly showed it by extending his career-best hitting streak to 23 games with a two-run homer off Derek Lowe (3-5) in the third inning.

He also drove in two runs with a single in Houston’s five-run sixth inning. Pence’s hitting streak is the longest active streak in the major leagues.

Wandy Rodriguez (4-3) allowed two hits in six scoreless innings for the win in his return from the disabled list. Wilton Lopez and Sergio Escalona each pitched a scoreless inning. The Astros’ Brandon Lyon allowed a three-run homer to Jordan Schafer with two outs in the ninth but retired Dan Uggla to end the game.

Lowe yielded eight hits, five runs and three walks in 5 1/3 innings as Atlanta ended a season-high six-game winning streak.

Brett Wallace had two and walked twice as the Astros won for just the second time in 10 games.

Clint Barmes singled before Pence’s shot to right field put Houston ahead 2-0 in the third inning. Pence finished with three hits and is batting .325 with 50 RBIs.

Jeff Keppinger singled in the sixth and scored on a double by Wallace to make it 3-0. A single by J.R. Towles with one out chased Lowe, who was replaced by Scott Linebrink. A double to left field by pinch hitter Matt Downs scored Wallace before Linebrink intentionally walked Michael Bourn to load the bases.

Towles scored on a Barmes sacrifice fly to extend the lead to 5-0 before Pence’s sharp grounder scored Downs and Bourn and made it 7-0.

Wallace doubled before a single by Chris Johnson in the seventh inning. He scored on a Towles sacrifice fly to put Houston up 8-0.

Schafer doubled to lead off the first, and Rodriguez walked Uggla. Freddie Freeman walked with two outs to load the bases, but Rodriguez escaped the jam by striking out Joe Mather.

Rodriguez retired the next five batters before plunking Brian McCann with two outs in the third inning. He walked Chipper Jones but escaped unscathed again when he struck out Freeman.

He threw a 1-2-3 fourth before a double by Lowe to start the fifth inning. But Rodriguez retired the next three to leave Lowe stranded.

Rodriguez walked Jones in the sixth, but the Astros turned a double play.

Bourn, who leads the majors with 27 stolen bases, swiped the 200th of his career in the fifth inning.

Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward, who has been out with a shoulder injury, began a rehabilitation assignment with Class AAA Gwinnett on Monday. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he expects him to play two or three games before he is activated from the disabled list.

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