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SD@HOU: Cantu drives a two-run shot to left

HOUSTON -- In the hours before Saturday's game at Minute Maid Park, Jorge Cantu was bundled up in a blanket and stretched out on a couch inside the visiting clubhouse, sleeping soundly as his teammates prepared for a game.

"It looked like he was on his deathbed," Padres closer Heath Bell said.

A day later, Cantu found enough strength from his bout with a tonsil infection, as well as nagging sneezing and chest congestion, to help the Padres gain a split of a four-game series with the Astros, as San Diego rallied for an 8-6 victory before a crowd of 22,899.

Cantu, the Padres' first baseman, hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning and walked to force in another run as part of a four-run eighth inning, all while trying to ward off a bout of dizziness on a warm afternoon with the roof open and nothing under which he could hide.

Sit this one out? No, Cantu said, that wasn't going to be an option.

"I can't miss too many games ... I have to get in a rhythm," Cantu said. "I have got to get the bat going."

Cantu's teammates did the same, as the Padres (7-8) had a season-high 11 hits, including three during that eighth inning as San Diego turned a 6-4 deficit into an 8-6 lead, while sending 10 batters to the plate.

"We had some good at-bats ... we didn't expand the strike zone, swung at strikes and we passed on balls," Padres manager Bud Black said.

They had some help, too.

Nick Hundley started the inning with a bloop single that fell in front of the right fielder Hunter Pence. The next batter, Ryan Ludwick, reached base when Houston shortstop Angel Sanchez committed an error on a ground ball.

"To see that fall apart and allow those three unearned runs, is something we haven't been doing," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That was tough, there's no doubt."

Cameron Maybin reached on a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners. That gave Jason Bartlett a chance to drive in his first run with the Padres, as he lined a single into right field to make it 6-5. Pinch-hitter Brad Hawpe then walked to load the bases.

That brought up Will Venable, who started the game on the bench but was pressed into duty when Chris Denorfia departed the game between the fourth and fifth innings. Denorfia suffered a bruised left forearm and a right knee contusion while chasing down a fly ball that he caught before hitting the rail in foul territory. He is listed as day-to-day. No tests were required on his forearm.

Venable, stuck in a 1-for-14 slump, hit a high fastball from reliever Mark Melancon (1-1), lining it into center field for two runs and a 7-6 lead. Three batters later, Cantu, facing reliever Jeff Fulchino, walked to bring in another run.

"I had a good talk with [bench coach Rick Renteria] last night about coming up with guys on base," Venable said. "I was getting away from my plan. Instead of wanting to get it done so badly, I just focused on getting a pitch to hit."

That set up what ended up being a pretty wild ninth inning for Bell, who earned his fourth save, though he had to sweat his way through it.

Jason Michaels singled to start the ninth inning. Chris Johnson, who had two hits earlier in the game, then struck out. Bell then walked Brett Wallace to bring the winning run to the plate in catcher Humberto Quintero.

Quintero hit a fly ball the other way to Venable, who drifted toward the foul line only to have the ball glance off his glove for an error. That loaded the bases.

"That's just a play you have to make," said Venable, who battled the lights and lost the ball at the last moment.

Bell then struck out pinch-hitter Matt Downs on seven pitches before getting the leadoff hitter, Jason Bourgeois, to ground out to Chase Headley at third base on a curveball for the final out of the game.

"Heath can walk the tightrope," Black said, smiling.

So, too, can the Padres, who saw each of their four games in Houston decided by two or fewer runs. They won Sunday even though starting pitcher Clayton Richard didn't have his best stuff, according to Black.

"That would be an accurate description," Richard said.

Richard allowed six earned runs on seven hits over 5 1/3 innings and was relieved in the sixth inning by Ernesto Frieri, who got five outs -- with three strikeouts -- for his first victory of the season.

Mike Adams worked a perfect eighth inning before handing the ball to Bell, who has now converted 38 consecutive saves, which is the longest active streak in baseball. He is also tied with Trevor Hoffman for the second-longest streak in club history.

"Everyone else had to fight uphill all day, so maybe it's fair I had to as well," Bell said.

It was an uphill struggle for Cantu, who banged his knee on the rail down the first base line as he reached in the stands to catch a ball.

The finish made it worth it and, standing in the sun might have actually done his illness some good, he said.

"I was dizzy and I had to drink a lot of Gatorade and water," Cantu said. "By the sixth, seventh inning I was sweating so much maybe I flushed it [illness] out of my system." Comments