Houston (56-45) at Milwaukee (40-60)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Milwaukee, WI
Temp: 20° F
  • Game info: 8:05 pm EDT Thu Jul 24, 2003
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Lance Berkman’s resurgence has jump-started the Houston Astros.

Berkman looks to continue his strong offensive stretch as the Astros aim to complete a two-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

The Astros outfielder hit his 20th homer of the season in the top of the 11th Wednesday to lead Houston to a 3-2 win in the opening game of the set. Berkman has hit at least 20 homers in each of his four full seasons in the majors.

Berkman also helped the Astros scratch for the tying run in the ninth when he doubled to lead off the inning, advanced to third on Brad Ausmus’ sacrifice and scored on Eric Bruntlett’s sacrifice fly.

Behind Berkman’s hot bat, the Astros have won seven of eight and 12 of 14 to climb into the lead of the NL Central.

“This is the time of year when you’ve really got to kick it into gear,” Berkman said. “The teams that are vying for playoff spots need to be playing their best baseball.”

Berkman, who leads Houston with 65 RBIs and 70 runs scored, got off to a slow start to the season, hitting .208 with just two homers and the end of April. Though his hitting has improved each month and his average was up to .281 by the end of June, Berkman seems to be reaching his peak.

He is hitting .362 (21-for-58) over his last 17 games with six homers, 17 RBIs and 16 runs scored.

Richie Sexson homered and Bill Hall hit a sacrifice fly for the Brewers, who have dropped four of six.

“It’s frustrating because when you take the lead like that, you want to close it out,” Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. “With the depth of their bullpen, if you’re tied, you’re going to be out there for a while.”

STANDINGS: Astros - 1st place, NL Central. Brewers - 6th place, 15 1/2 GB, NL Central.

ASTROS PROBABLE STARTER: Ron Villone (2-0, 2.50 ERA.) Villone hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his five starts since the Astros purchased his contract from Triple-A New Orleans on June 15. The left-handed journeyman has won two straight, both against Cincinnati, including Saturday’s 9-8 victory. He allowed just one run and six hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking two. Villone is 2-3 with a 10.48 ERA in 14 career appearances against Milwaukee, including five starts.

BREWERS PROBABLE STARTER: Ben Sheets (8-7, 4.00 ERA). Sheets is 2-1 with a 2.65 ERA over his last three starts and is coming off one of his best outings of the season. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed just seven hits over seven innings of Saturday’s 1-0 win over Pittsburgh, striking out seven without issuing a walk. Sheets is 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA in eight career starts against Houston.

OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Astros - Richard Hidalgo, .327 avg.; Jeff Bagwell, 21 HRs; Berkman, 65 RBIs and 70 runs; Adam Everett, 6 SBs. Brewers - Scott Podsednik, .307 avg.; Sexson, 27 HRs, 74 RBIs and 63 runs; Posednik and Eric Young, 20 SBs.

SEASON SERIES: Tied, 4-4.

STREAKS AND NOTES: Astros - RF Hidalgo is hitting .417 (15-for-36) with four home runs in eight games against the Brewers this season. In his career, he is hitting .309 with 17 home runs and 51 RBIs in just 233 at-bats against Milwaukee. … LHP Billy Wagner earned his 30th save Wednesday to inch closer to the franchise mark of 39 he established in 1999 and 2001. … The Astros are 37-16 against teams with losing records and 19-29 against teams with winning records. Brewers - SS Hall started the Brewers’ last two games with starter Royce Clayton in an 8-for-54 slump. Hall is 2-for-8 with a double and a triple. … 3B Wes Helms had two hits Wednesday to continue his hot hitting. He is batting .333 (16-for-48) over his last 12 games. … Brewers pitchers are hitting .346 (9-for-26) over their last 12 games with two doubles and three RBIs.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Astros - 24-27 on the road; Brewers - 18-35 at home.

INJURIES: Astros - INF Jose Vizcaino (wrist), 15-day DL; LHP Carlos Hernandez (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Rodrigo Rosario (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Brian Moehler (elbow), 60-day DL. Brewers - RHP Jayson Durocher (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Matt Ford (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Nick Neugebauer (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Ruben Quevedo (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Todd Ritchie (shoulder), 15-day DL.

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Starting Pitchers

R. Villone Was vs. B. Sheets Atl
6-6 Record 11-13
4.13 ERA 4.45
91 K 157
48 BB 43
1.30 WHIP 1.25