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HOU@ATL: Maxwell sends a long home run to left

ATLANTA -- Three times Justin Maxwell came to the plate against Braves left-hander Paul Maholm on Saturday night. Three times Maxwell pulled the ball a little deeper into left field, until he led off the seventh inning with a towering fly ball deep into the seats for what proved to be the game-winning home run.

Maxwell's two home runs and three RBIs powered the Astros to a 3-2 victory against Atlanta in front of 30,029 at Turner Field. The win snapped the Astros' four-game losing streak.

"Offensively, can't say enough about Maxie," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "What a day."

Backing Maxwell's big night was a solid performance by the Astros' pitching staff. Right-hander Lucas Harrell allowed two runs on four hits in six innings and struck out five. The Astros' bullpen followed with three no-hit innings, and right-hander Wilton Lopez got the final two outs for his first save in nearly two years.

"It was a great all-around team effort today," Harrell said. "It's just a big win for us."

Maxwell led the Astros on offense, beginning with a single to left field in the second inning. He stole second base, but was stranded when Maholm induced two flyouts to end the inning.

In the fourth, Maxwell made sure no one needed to drive him in. He drove an 86-mph fastball over the fence for his 11th home run, giving the Astros a 2-0 lead.

With the way Harrell was pitching, it looked like two runs might be enough to end the losing streak. For 5 2/3 innings, Harrell pitched like a stopper, wriggling out of jams and keeping the Braves off the scoreboard.

But with two outs in the sixth inning, Harrell suddenly lost his command and walked three straight batters to load the bases. Harrell then got ahead of Dan Uggla, 1-2, but couldn't put the second baseman away. Uggla pulled a fastball into left for a single to tie the game at 2.

"I felt like the pitch I made to Uggla was a good pitch," Harrell said. "He's a strong guy and he kind of muscled a sinker in out there."

The score wouldn't stay even for long. Maxwell led off the seventh inning and once again took Maholm deep to left.

Maxwell was 0-for-3 with a walk in his career against Maholm entering the game. But the last time he had faced the left-hander was Sept. 4, 2010, too long ago to be of much use to Maxwell. He said he was just trying to hit the ball hard.

Maholm gave him two good pitches to swing at, missing over the plate with a fastball and then hanging a curveball.

"The two home runs were really the only two mistakes I made," Maholm said. "He did a good job, obviously, hitting them a long way."

Maxwell added a single in the ninth inning and finished the game 4-for-4. It was his first career four-hit game and second two-homer game. The only other time he accomplished the feat was on Sept. 12, 2009, as a member of the Nationals.

Maxwell has come a long way since that night. He is now 28, and has been shuffled out of the plans of two teams. The Nationals traded him to the Yankees in February 2011. This April, the Astros claimed him off waivers from the Yankees. Like many other members of the Astros, this is Maxwell's best opportunity to play, a chance to prove he belongs in the Major Leagues.

After playing parts of three seasons with the Nationals and then missing out on a callup with the Yankees last year because of an injury he suffered in Triple-A, Maxwell said he's happy for the chance to play regularly in the Major Leagues.

"I was just happy [general manager Jeff] Luhnow and the Astros gave me the chance to come over here after having no more options," Maxwell said. "Hats off to them, and I'm going to try and give my best effort every time I get a chance to play."

Though the Astros are well out of the pennant race, Maxwell said games like Saturday show they can still benefit from working hard during the season's final two months.

"We're not in a good situation right now," Maxwell said. "But if we keep playing hard, it'll get better for us in the future."

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