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Pence pummels a ninth-inning three-run homer

CHICAGO -- The Houston Astros simply didn't want rookie Jordan Lyles to lose his Major League debut on Tuesday night, so in the ninth inning, they did something about it.

Trailing by two runs after the Cubs finally got to Lyles in the eighth, the Astros pounded out five hits and six runs in the ninth against hard-throwing closer Carlos Marmol to win, 7-3, at Wrigley Field and make sure the highly regarded Lyles, 20, didn't take a loss in an otherwise dominating debut.

"Jordan threw a great game and we wanted to go out there and put up some more runs for him," said Astros first baseman Brett Wallace, who went 3-for-5 with a solo home run and started the ninth with a single. "He came out and was in control out there. That was fun to see. He looked fearless out there and that was awesome to play behind. We definitely wanted to try and make a little run for him, because he doesn't deserve the loss there for sure."

After Wallace's single, Chris Johnson doubled him to third before Matt Downs came through with a pinch-hit double to plate both runners and tie it at 3. After Downs was sacrificed to third, Michael Bourn singled him home before stealing second to get himself in scoring position.

A walk by Clint Barmes put another runner on for Hunter Pence, who blasted an 0-1 offering by Marmol into the left-field bleachers to put the Astros up by four.

"I got hit today," Marmol said. "What can you do about it? Throw your best pitch and they hit it."

Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth to end it for the Astros, giving Fernando Rodriguez his first win in relief and taking Lyles off the hook.

"I couldn't care less," Lyles, the youngest active player in the Major Leagues, said of not earning the win. "We won. If we win, I don't care how I pitch or how I do. If we win, it's all right."

Lyles had a sterling performance going through seven and appeared in control of the game despite holding just a 1-0 lead. Then it was marred in the eighth by his own throwing error on a sacrifice bunt -- when he tried to nab Geovany Soto at third with no outs.

He fielded Tyler Colvin's bunt cleanly, but the throw sailed wide and deflected off Johnson's glove into left field. That plated Soto to tie the game and put Colvin at second. Lyles was removed after 92 pitches (62 strikes) and Darwin Barney doubled home Colvin off Wilton Lopez. Aramis Ramirez doubled Barney home for a two-run cushion, and it looked like Lyles' first start would have a sour ending.

Lyles didn't just pitch well. He showed a glimpse of a potentially dominant pitcher who's mature beyond his age and knows how to mix his four pitches up to keep hitters off balance. He deftly escaped three separate situations in the first five innings when a runner reached scoring position -- including strikeouts of Soto and Cubs starter Carlos Zambrano to end the fifth with Blake DeWitt stranded at third following his leadoff double.

After his strikeout, Zambrano snapped his bat in two and angrily stomped back to the dugout. Zambrano also threw a gem, going eight innings and allowing just the solo homer by Wallace in the fourth. It just wasn't enough to overcome a determined Houston team, which now has a chance to complete its first sweep of the season on Wednesday afternoon.

In all, Lyles threw seven-plus innings, struck out four, walked none, allowed five hits and two runs with only one earned.

"No matter what, Jordan didn't leave the mound with a tough day," said Pence, who went 3-for-5 and extended his hitting streak to 12 games. "He left the mound like a champion. It was really amazing to watch how he came out there and pitched. It gives you a lot of hope to see him come up and do that at that age. I'm glad we have him on our team. We've been waiting for him." Comments