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Astros Blast Off On Braves

Hitting has always come easy to Mitch Meluskey.

Houston's rookie catcher homered twice and Wade Miller won for the third time in his last four decisions as the Astros beat the Atlanta Braves 9-3 Sunday.

"Mitch is just a natural hitter," manager Larry Dierker said. "He was a little rusty after coming off the disabled list (Aug. 18) but he has found his stroke again."

Meluskey led off the fourth with a homer off Andy Ashby (8-12) and hit a two-run shot in the eighth for his first career multihomer game. Meluskey has three homers in the last two games.

"Hitting definitely is the part of my game that comes the easiest," said Meluskey, who had three hits to raise his average to .301. "But I still have to work on it every day. And I'm disappointed with the way I'm hitting right-handed (.146) this year. That's something I have to work on for next year."

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  • Before he missed two weeks in early August with a sprained right shoulder, he was a leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year and hopes he still has a shot.

    His two homers gave him 14 to move back into the rookie lead ahead of the Phillies Pat Burrell and the Mets Jay Payton. He's tied with Burrell for the lead in RBI with 58 each.

    "That's something I really have put in the back of my mind," Meluskey said. "It would be a feather in my cap to be the rookie of the year. But the main thing now is to try and find some chemistry with this team for next year."

    The Braves have lost five of seven and eight of 11, but still hold a half-game lead in the NL East over the , who lost 4-3 in 11 innings to St. Louis.

    "There's no panic in this club," manager Bobby Cox said. "I think the day off tomorrow may help us. Maybe it'll break things up a little for us."

    Miller (4-5) gave up two runs, nine hits and three walks in seven innings. He struck out seven.

    Ashby, who lost his fourth straight decision, gave up five runs and eight hits in 3 2-3 innings. He did not walk or strikeout a batter. Ashby left his last start Tuesday after six innings against the Reds with a blood blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand.

    "I think I made the pitches I wanted to make, but I also made some I didn't want to," Ashby said. "It's frustrating to let it get away like that."

    B.J. Surhoff led off the second inning for Atlanta with a triple and scored on Javy Lopez's groundout for a 1-0 lead. Keith Lockhart's RBI single in the fourth made it 2-0.

    Meluskey's first homer started a five-run fourth inning for Houston. Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Moises Alou followed with singles to tie it at 2. Richard Hidalgo added an RBI double, Chris Truby had a run-scoring groundout, and Bill Spiers had an RBI infield single to knock out Ashby.

    Truby's sacrifice fly made it 6-2 in the fifth.

    Spiers singled to center, driving in Julio Lugo in the eighth and Meluskey followed with his 14th homer.


  • Meluskey's 14 homers are the most by an Astros catcher since Craig Biggio's 13 in 1989.
  • Rafael Furcal has at least one walk in seven straight games.
  • In losing the series 2-1, Atlanta has dropped six of its last 10 series.

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