Astros 8, Expos 2

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HOUSTON (AP)—Ron Villone usually feels good while warming up. This time, he was just as comfortable during the game.

Villone pitched into the seventh inning and was backed by four Houston Astros home runs Sunday in an 8-2 victory over the Montreal Expos.

Villone (4-2) had lost two of his last three starts.

“I had thrown the ball real well in the bullpen before each of those games,” Villone said. “But for some reason, I couldn’t take it in the game.

“Today, I just wanted to try and take it into the game. I slowed down a little bit on my windup and it seemed to work.”

Jeff Kent, Lance Berkman, Richard Hidalgo and Brad Ausmus homered for the NL Central-leading Astros. Jeff Bagwell hit a two-run double in the first inning.

Villone gave up consecutive homers to Orlando Cabrera and Wil Cordero in the seventh but allowed just four hits and a walk in 6 1-3 innings. He struck out five, sending the Expos to their 13th loss in 15 road games.

The left-hander set down 16 of 17 batters during one stretch from the second through the seventh innings.

“The last couple of starts he has had the trouble with location,” catcher Brad Ausmus said. “But he threw very well today. He was throwing the way he did when he first got called up.”

Villone was called up from Triple-A New Orleans on June 18.

“He has really given this team a lift since he came up from Triple-A,” manager Jimy Williams said. “To me, he has kept us in just about every game he has pitched.”

The Expos were impressed.

“He’s got good stuff,” Cabrera said. “His cutter was good. He kept us off-balance with a changeup away. We didn’t hit the ball hard except for two times. His pitches were moving a lot.”

Brad Lidge struck out four in 1 2-3 hitless innings and Dan Miceli finished it for Houston.

The Expos snapped an eight-game road losing streak Saturday night.

“This is just about the usual,” manager Frank Robinson said. “Basically, we got our four or five hits, only today two of them were solo home runs.

“We’re trying different people. It seems like everybody is struggling. The main guys we depend on for run production aren’t doing it and you can’t expect the other guys to step up and give you what those guys aren’t.”

Montreal’s Scott Downs made his first start of the season after being called up from Triple-A Edmonton on Friday. Downs went three innings and allowed five runs on five hits and three walks. He struck out four.

The Astros jumped on Downs immediately as Craig Biggio led off the first with a single followed by Morgan Ensberg’s double. Bagwell doubled both in for a 2-0 lead.

With the bases loaded two outs later, Downs (0-1) caught his cleats on the pitching rubber and stumbled off the mound, balking in Bagwell for a 3-0 Houston lead.

“I had some clay in my cleats and I just slipped off the rubber,” Downs said. “If I’d thrown the ball, there’s no telling where it would have gone. They scored a run because of it, but it could have been worse.”

Solo homers by Hidalgo, his 20th, and Ausmus, his third, made it 5-0 in the third.

Cabrera’s 17th homer and Cordero’s 13th were enough to chase Villone in the seventh.

The Astros added three runs off Rocky Biddle in the eighth on Kent’s 15thhome run, Berkman’s 21st and an RBI triple by Adam Everett.

Notes

Biggio’s single left him just one hit short of tying Mickey Mantle for 94th on the career list. Mantle had 2,415 hits. … Downs’ balk was only the fourth by an Expos pitcher this season. Livan Hernandez, Javier Vazquez and Scott Stewart had the others. … It was the third time this season Montreal has hit back-to-back homers. The last was July 5 against Atlanta when Cabreraand Brad Wilkerson did it.

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