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Astros Charge Past Reds 6-3

The Houston Astros took advantage of a rare off-day by closer Jeff Shaw and rallied for a win that meant a lot to their self-esteem.

The Astros emerged from a series-long slump by scoring two runs in the ninth off the Cincinnati Reds closer, then added three more in the 10th for a 6-3 victory Sunday.

Houston didn't hit the ball hard as it lost the first two games of the series and went into the ninth trailing 3-1 on Sunday. The Astros broke out of their slump with their third final-inning comeback of the week.

"I think that speaks to character," manager Larry Dierker said. "It also says we haven't been as good in the first eight innings as we had been earlier in the year.

"I hope this shakes some of these guys out of it. It's hard to say. I don't think we're playing our best baseball now."

They were awfully good in the final two innings Sunday, when they rallied for their sixth victory in eight games. The Astros lead the NL Central by two games and are tied with the 1980 club for Houston's best start at 41-26.

"This was a very big win for us," said Bill Spiers, who had four hits, including a double off Shaw (1-4) to start the ninth-inning comeback and a two-run homer in the 10th. "After losing the last two games and getting down like we did I don't want to say it was a must win, but it was a pick-me-up type of game. It felt like that."

It was an out-of-character game for Shaw, who had not given up an earned run in his previous 18 appearances spanning 25 1-3 innings. He had a 0.97 ERA when he took the mound best among NL closers but gave up seven hits, a walk and five runs in two innings.

The five runs allowed matched his season total.

"It was a case where everything they hit just dropped in," Shaw said. "I'm not going to be perfect all the time. That's just not going to happen."

His failure undercut a late rally by the Reds, who went up 3-1 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth when Eduardo Perez had a tiebreaking, bases-loaded single.

Spiers set the tone against Shaw by opening the ninth with a double on an 0-2 pitch. One out later, Jeff Bagwell singled Spiers home and took third on Moises Alou's single, his third hit of the game.

The Astros tied it when the Reds failed to turn a double play on Carl Everett's soft grounder to shortstop Barry Larkin, whose hurried flip to second was in the dirt for an error.

"We hadn't swung the bats at all this series," Bagwell said. "It was just a matter of time before we got some hits."

Shaw's fifth blown save in 23 chances turned into a loss an inning later, when Ricky Gutierrez led off with a walk, stole second and came around on Craig Biggio's single for a 4-3 lead. Spiers then hit his second homer of the eason.

"You don't do that all the time against Shaw. He's one of the best," Spiers said. "You've got to feel lucky when you do that."

Billy Wagner (1-2) pitched out of a threat in the bottom of the ninth and got the final three outs for the win.

The wild finish was a reversal from the first five innings, when Sean Bergman and Scott Winchester took turns pitching out of jams to keep it scoreless.

Slumping Eddie Taubensee led off the Reds' sixth with a homer, his fifth, to put the Reds up 1-0. Taubensee had been in a 2-for-29 slump that dropped his average from .362 to .320.

Reds manager Jack McKeon then made a surprising move and pinch-hit Winchester, who had given up only three hits and struck out a career-high seven in six innings. Winchester showed extraordinary control, throwing 55 strikes in his 70 pitches.

Scott Sullivan relieved and Alou hit his seventh pitch for his 15th homer, tying it 1-1 in the seventh.

The Reds went ahead again in the eighth with a lot of help from the Astros' bullpen. Dmitri Young doubled with one out off Bergman and reliever Mike Magnante let Bret Boone's comeback grounder deflect off his glove for an infield single. Magnante walked Melvin Nieves on four pitches to load the bases and gave up Perez's pinch single.

Notes: Bergman, coming off a 4 1-3 inning start that matched his shortest of the season, allowed eight hits and struck out a season-high seven in 7 1-3 innings. ... The Astros have homered in their last eight games, their best power streak of the season. Overall, they have hit at last one homer in 13 of their last 15 games. ... Taubensee's homer was his 500th career hit. ... Winchester had not struck out more than three batters in any of his nine previous major league starts.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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