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ATL@HOU: Happ gives Astros the lead with RBI single

HOUSTON -- As encouraged as the Astros were by the strong pitching performances by starters Wandy Rodriguez, Lucas Harrell and Bud Norris to start the season, watching J.A. Happ deliver the club's fourth quality start in as many games Monday night had them downright giddy.

Happ, who struggled with consistency and control last season, retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced, and helped the Astros rally from a three-run deficit with a go-ahead RBI single in the fourth inning to lead Houston to its third consecutive win, 8-3, over the Braves at Minute Maid Park.

"What a confidence booster it was for this game, to be able to get back into it like that," manager Brad Mills said.

The Astros wiped out an early 3-0 deficit with eight unanswered runs, capped by a towering two-run, pinch-hit homer in the eighth off the bat of the newest Astro -- outfielder Justin Maxwell, who joined the club hours earlier after being claimed off waivers Sunday.

"New team, new ballpark, never been here before ... it was pretty cool," Maxwell said.

After committing four errors in an Opening Day loss to the Rockies, the Astros have won three in a row for their best start since 2006. They're not only getting great starting pitching, but the hitting has been timely -- 5-for-7 with runners in scoring position Monday -- and they haven't made an error since kicking it around on Friday.

Happ, who improved to 3-0 with a 2.13 ERA against the winless Braves, righted the ship after a shaky start to keep the strong run of starting pitching going. Astros starters have a 1.71 ERA through four games and have four quality starts to begin a season for the first time since Shane Reynolds, Mike Hampton, Darryl Kile and Chris Holt in 1997.

"Early in the game, I thought we put Happ on the ropes a little bit," Braves catcher Brian McCann said. "He was able to settle in a little bit after that inning and make some pitches."

The Astros got contributions from up and down the lineup, with the No. 9 spot in the order going 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs. Happ had an RBI single in the fourth off Brandon Beachy to put the Astros ahead, and J.D. Martinez had a pinch-hit single in the sixth.

Maxwell's homer -- which made him the first Astros player to homer in his first at-bat with the team since reliever Gustavo Chacin in 2010 -- ignited a party-like atmosphere in the dugout.

"I think the past couple of games, guys have really put together quality at-bats," left-fielder Travis Buck said. "Hitting is contagious and the guys want to just go up there and think they're going to get the job done, and the past couple of games we've definitely done that. It's rubbing off on everyone."

Happ gave up four singles in a five-batter span in the second that led to a pair of Braves runs. Atlanta took a 3-0 lead in the third when Martin Prado led off the inning with a double and scored on McCann's single, but Happ sent down the next 11 batters.

"Obviously, I'm frustrated with the way that second inning, especially, played out," Happ said. "I definitely wanted to keep us where we're at and I knew we had a good chance because we've been putting good at-bats together so far to start this year. We did that again tonight. We came back right away and that's definitely good to see."

The Astros rallied after two outs in the third for three runs to tie the game. The Braves committed three errors in the inning, including two on one play by third baseman Juan Francisco. Buck's two-run double got Houston on the board, and Carlos Lee following with a game-tying single.

"It's huge because we have to play fundamentally sound baseball as well, but to take advantage of their mistakes is huge," Buck said. "That's the name of this game. You have to capitalize on other team's mistakes, and we were definitely able to do that."

Happ put himself in position to get the win with a two-out single in the fourth, putting the Astros ahead, 4-3. Livan Hernandez, who spent most of the spring in camp with Houston before being released, pitched the sixth for the Braves and gave up four hits, including an RBI single by Martinez and a sacrifice fly by Jose Altuve that stretched the lead to 6-3.

"We have been playing good baseball and doing the little things to win the game," said shortstop Marwin Gonzalez, who went 3-for-4. "We have a lot of confidence. There's no pressure in the dugout. We're trying to have fun and do the little things and do the best inside the lines." Comments