Lidle puts Astros bats on idle with 7-0 shutout

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 24, 2004

CINCINNATI - The best thing to do with the Cincinnati Reds right now is just get out of their way.

Cory Lidle pitched his third career shutout and Ken Griffey Jr. hit a two-run homer Sunday, leading the Reds to their fifth straight win, 7-0 over the Houston Astros.

The Reds have won eight of nine, pulling into first place in the NL Central with their best surge of the season. They opened the day tied with the Astros and the Cubs.

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Everything is going their way for now. Their broken-bat flares find a hole and their opponents' line drives find someone's glove.

''I think we're right on track,'' said Lidle, who gave up only six singles. ''I don't think there are very many teams that want to face us right now.''

The five-game winning streak matches their best stretch of last season, when they lost 93 games and traded away many of their stars at midseason.

The Astros have lost a season-high four in a row, knocking them out of first place for the first time since April 29.

''Trust me, there's not a guy in this clubhouse that's worried,'' catcher Brad Ausmus said. ''This is a good team. Good teams have slumps during the season.''

Lidle (3-4) struck out four, walked two and hit Craig Biggio as he got his first victory since April 22. The Reds turned three double plays behind the right-hander, who has three complete games this season.

Lidle's other two shutouts came for Oakland in 2002.

A talk with Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench a few days ago helped Lidle figure out why he's been so inconsistent this season - one good outing inevitably followed by a bad one. Bench shows up at the Reds' park occasionally, and Lidle had never met him.

''I told him I thought I was throwing the ball pretty good, but things weren't going my way,'' Lidle said. ''It was frustrating. He told me that I had to just wipe that out. It's just getting into the right frame of mind.''

Griffey hit his ninth homer - and 490th of his career - in the fifth inning off Wade Miller (5-4), who matched his season high by giving up five runs in only five innings.

Sean Casey had three more hits, including a solo homer that raised the NL's top average to .380. Austin Kearns singled twice and drove in a pair of runs, extending his tear since he returned from a broken forearm.

Miller came in with gaudy career numbers against the Reds - 7-1 in 13 games. History was no help against a team on a roll.

In the first two games of the series, the Reds knocked out Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens after five innings apiece. Miller was already kicking the grass in disgust as he headed for the dugout after a tone-setting first inning.

He, too, was gone after the fifth.

In the first three games of the series, which concludes Monday night, Houston starters have given up 12 runs in 15 innings.

''Our pitching hasn't crumbled, but our starting pitching this series hasn't done great,'' said Miller, who struggled with all of his pitches. ''Once we get hot, the whole team is going to get hot.''

The Reds loaded the bases with one out in the first on an infield single and a pair of walks, and Kearns singled softly to right field for a 2-0 lead.