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09/26/09 11:40 PM ET

Reds power past Astros for sixth straight

Bats stay hot as Cincinnati wins ninth in a row vs. Houston

HOUSTON -- The battle for fourth place in the National League Central is starting to favor the Cincinnati Reds.

Playing their best baseball of the season, the Reds on Saturday walloped the Astros by a score of 10-4 at Minute Maid Park before an announced crowd of 39,476. It was Cincinnati's sixth straight win and made the Reds 5-0 on the road trip which concludes on Sunday.

As the club continues to mount up the wins late in the season, it also continues its mastery of the Astros. Cincinnati has now won its past nine games with Houston. The Reds, who received a second-inning, two-run home run from Laynce Nix and three doubles from Joey Votto, increased their lead over fifth-place Houston to 2 1/2 games with only a week remaining in the season.

"It's quite a dubious honor, but we just want to finish off strong and take as much momentum as we can going into next year," said Votto. "At the end of the year, despite us being out of contention, there's a pride factor too.

"There's a lot of September callups and players that come in to fill in. It's not necessarily June and July baseball. There's a big difference between the two, especially when you're out of contention. But we want to do our best to finish off strong."

Apparently, so does Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada. Tejada homered among his four hits in the game. The four-hit performance was his fifth of the season, and dating to Friday, Tejada has hit safely in his last five at-bats.

The Astros managed solo home runs from Hunter Pence in the second inning and Tejada in the third, but Reds starter Justin Lehr (5-2) got enough run support to earn the win. Jay Bruce put the finishing touches on a 12-hit attack for the Reds with a ninth-inning two-run homer that concluded the scoring.

In five innings, Lehr allowed four runs on six hits and two walks. But the Reds led 5-2 through three innings and 8-2 through 4 1/2 innings. Lehr is accustomed to the Reds lending him support in his 10 starts of the season.

"All 10 of my starts have been like that," said Lehr, who was promoted from Louisville on Aug. 1. "We've played really well. We've played exceptionally well since I've been here.

"It's nice to pitch with some cushion. Any starter will tell you that. I've been fortunate."

There was little suspense about the outcome. Cincinnati scored early and often off Astros right-handed starter Felipe Paulino (2-11), who lasted only five innings. The Reds managed eight runs off Paulino, who allowed nine hits with four walks.

"He had good velocity," said Reds manager Dusty Baker. "He had a couple pitches up, breaking balls up. The young man has an outstanding arm. I think he's going to be a winner. He's struggling right now."

Votto isn't struggling. He's making a strong bid to become the first Reds player to average .300 or better since Sean Casey (.312) and Ken Griffey Jr. (.301) accomplished the feat in 2005. With his three hits on Saturday, Votto is hitting .319.

"Joey's a very determined young man and a good hitter," said Baker. "You have to have that determination and confidence, and Joey has both. He's using the whole field and he has been a doubles machine the last week or so. He's had some week."

In Votto's last 16 games, since June 10, the left-handed-hitting first baseman is hitting .467 (28-for-60) with two home runs and 12 RBIs. His three doubles on Saturday tied a career high set on Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh.

Votto extended his career high of reaching base safely by hit or walk to 23 consecutive games.

A three-run third gave the Reds a 5-1 advantage. Juan Francisco's single to right scored Votto and Brandon Phillips. A sacrifice fly by Nix made it 5-1.

The Astros gave the next-to-last home crowd of the season something to cheer about in a two-run fifth that reduced the Reds' lead to 8-4.

After Tejada's single scored pinch-hitter Edwin Maysonet, making it 8-3, Astros slugger Lance Berkman came up with the runners on first and third and no outs. Lehr enticed Berkman to hit into a 5-4-3 double play, scoring Michael Bourn. Carlos Lee followed Berkman at the plate and ended the inning by grounding out to second, preserving the Reds' four-run advantage.

The nine consecutive wins over the Astros, dating to April 28 of this season, ties the second-longest winning streak by the Reds over the Astros. Cincinnati won 11 straight over Houston in 1995 from May 22-Sept. 4.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.