Brandon Backe hit his first career homer, a two-run shot, and yielded one run in seven innings to keep the Houston Astros in the thick of the National League wild-card chase with an 11-5 win over the visiting Cincinnati Reds yesterday -- their season-high 10th straight victory.

"I was just excited thinking about the home run," said the 26-year-old pitcher, who was making only his fourth career start and was called back to take a bow by the hometown crowd. "I was going to go down and sit in my little hole, but they told me to get out there."

Jeff Bagwell, Lance Berkman and Jeff Kent also homered for Houston, which is on its longest win streak in five years. The Astros have won 18 of 21 since Aug. 15. The Astros closed within a game of NL wild-card leaders Chicago and San Francisco.

Backe (3-2) shut down the Reds after giving up three hits and a run-scoring single to D'Angelo Jimenez in the first. He gave up only four singles from there, finishing with a career-high eight strikeouts and a walk.

After his homer, the crowd of 40,581 gave Backe a standing ovation as he rounded the bases.

"I asked [Manager Phil] Garner, 'Did we just win the World Series or what?' " Berkman said. "I didn't know what was going on."

* PADRES 7, CARDINALS 3: Ryan Klesko singled in the go-ahead run with none out in the eighth inning and host San Diego kept alive its slim playoff hopes and ended the Cardinals' nine-game winning streak.

With the score tied at 3 and the bases loaded in the eighth, Klesko hit a chopper over the head of first baseman Albert Pujols to score Ramon Vazquez.

The Padres quickly blew it open against reliever Cal Eldred. Khalil Greene followed with a sacrifice fly, Terrence Long had a pinch-hit RBI single and another run scored on the play on a throwing error by Pujols.

* BRAVES 3, PHILLIES 1: Replacement starter Travis Smith pitched five solid innings and Andruw Jones homered for host Atlanta.

Smith (1-3) got the start when Mike Hampton couldn't go because of a stiff neck. The 31-year-old journeyman allowed five hits and a run before giving way to the bullpen.

* CUBS 9, EXPOS 1: Aramis Ramirez hit a pair of two-run homers and Carlos Zambrano (13-8) allowed four hits in eight innings to lead Chicago at home.

Mark Grudzielanek, Derrek Lee and Michael Barrett also homered for the Cubs, who played their first game since Wednesday's 2-1 victory in 11 innings at Montreal. The Cubs had their last three games against the Florida Marlins in Miami postponed because of Hurricane Frances.

Chicago won without Sammy Sosa in the lineup. The seven-time all-star has bursitis in his right hip and is listed as day-to-day.

* BREWERS 9, PIRATES 5: Brady Clark drove in four runs and Milwaukee used a six-run third inning to win in Pittsburgh.

Geoff Jenkins homered leading off the second, then followed Clark's two-run single in the pivotal third with a two-run double against Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong (4-12).