Astros 8, Cubs 3

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CHICAGO (AP)—Roger Clemens couldn’t have done it much better.

Ezequiel Astacio, starting in place of the injured ace, allowed four hits in six innings Saturday, and the Houston Astros increased their lead in the NL wild-card race with an 8-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Craig Biggio matched his career high with his 24th homer, a solo shot in the first inning, and drove in another run, and Lance Berkman also homered. It was the ninth win in 11 games for Houston, which extended its lead to two games over Philadelphia in the wild-card race.

“I feel happy because I won, but more because the team won and we needed to win,” said Astacio, who got his first victory since Aug. 3.

The Astros also moved five games ahead of Florida after the Marlins’ 6-1 loss at Atlanta.

“We’ve got to take care of our own business. If we don’t do that, we could be sitting at home in a few weeks,” Biggio said.

Nomar Garciaparra hit a two-run homer for the Cubs, who were officially eliminated with the loss. Carlos Zambrano (14-6) gave up six runs and nine hits in 6 1-3 innings, snapping his career-best, six-game winning streak.

“They’re playing hard, we just didn’t play good defense,” Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. “You can’t give runs away in the major leagues, even at the end of the season. You have to play to win every day, and our defense didn’t do that.”

Astacio was tapped to start after Clemens was scratched Friday with a sore left hamstring. Clemens, who won his record seventh Cy Young Award last year at 42 and is leading the majors with a 1.89 ERA this season, has been bothered by the injury all month and the Astros decided it would be better to give him some extra rest in case they make the postseason.

Astacio (3-6) hadn’t started since Sept. 2 and had pitched only one inning in each of his last four outings, but he looked sharp against Chicago.

“I didn’t put any pressure on myself,” Astacio said. “It had been awhile since I started, so I was more calm on the mound. That way I could stay there longer.”

Astacio allowed three runs, struck out three and walked two. He limited the Cubs to two hits and Corey Patterson’s sac fly RBI through the first five innings, retiring nine of 11 batters at one point.

But the Cubs got to him in the sixth. Neifi Perez led off with a single up the middle and one out later, Garciaparra sent the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence and onto Waveland Avenue. The homer was Garciaparra’s eighth of the year, and pulled the Cubs within 4-3.

The Astros put away the game with a three-run seventh, though, getting some help from the elements. Willy Taveras led off with a single and, one out later, scored on a triple by Morgan Ensberg. It actually looked as if it would be a routine flyout, but rain had started a few minutes earlier and Patterson slipped and fell on the wet dirt when he backed up to make the catch.

The ball bounced in front of Patterson, allowing Taveras to score and Ensberg to get to third. The game was halted shortly after that for 1 1/2 hours, but the Astros picked up where they left off when it resumed. They loaded the bases with two walks off reliever Will Ohman, scored one run on Jose Vizcaino’s RBI single and another on a wild pitch by Ohman.

“Astacio did a good job today. A real good job today,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “Astacio kept them down and he kept us in the ballgame, and then we broke it open. … We’ve been saying it all along, if we take care of business, we don’t have to worry about the other teams.”

Notes

Biggio also hit 24 homers last season. … Ensberg and Vizcaino each had a pair of RBIs. … Derrek Lee went 0-for-4, only the eighth time in 36 games he’s failed to get at least one hit. … Astros manager Phil Garner said he doesn’t expect Clemens to miss any other starts, which would mean Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt are in line to start the last three games of the regular season.

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