Tom Browning became the first rookie in 31 years to win 20 games and Buddy Bell hit a three-run homer as the Reds beat the Houston Astros, 5-2, yesterday in Houston.

Browning (20-9), who has won his last 11 decisions, is the first rookie 20-game winner since Bob Grim (20-6) did it for the New York Yankees in 1954. St. Louis' Harvey Haddix (20-9), in 1953, was the last National League rookie to win 20.

"He's never been touted as one of the great pitchers of tomorrow," Reds catcher Dave Van Gorder said. "I'm not surprised, but it has to be somewhat of a shock to the baseball world. It's unbelievable, I think."

"When I came off the field, I could feel tears in my eyes," Browning said. "I don't think it's sunk in yet."

Browning, a 25-year-old left-hander who is the first pitcher to win 20 games for the Reds since Jim Merritt (20-12) in 1970, allowed seven hits and two runs over 7 1/3 innings. He also had two hits. Ted Power pitched the final 1 2/3 innings for his 26th save.

The Reds, leading by 1-0, scored four runs in the third inning. Max Venable singled off Mike Scott (18-8), took third on Pete Rose's single and scored on Dave Parker's ground-rule double. Bell then hit his sixth homer.

Parker raised his league-leading RBI total to 120 and extended his hitting streak to 13 games.