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HOU@SD: Headley hammers an RBI double to deep center

SAN DIEGO -- Something came over Mat Latos in the fifth inning of Sunday's 7-2 win, and the Padres are fortunate that it did.

Latos, in his final inning of work, had runners on first and second just after the Astros (23-37) scored their second run of the game on a Hunter Pence single to cut the Padres' lead to two runs.

Houston shortstop Clint Barnes missed a home run on a ball that sailed just a few feet left of the left-field foul post just before Pence's at-bat, so manager Bud Black stopped the action to chat with both his starter and his infield.

"That was a little bit strategic, and [there were] just some things I needed to translate to Mat in person," Black said.

Black wouldn't reveal what was said during that huddle, but Latos (4-6) emerged from it, the skipper said, with conviction.

Latos' fastball jumped, from 90 mph and 91 mph to 93 and 94. He retired his final two batters -- Carlos Lee and Jeff Keppinger -- with eight pitches: six fastballs, a curve and a slider.

By holding Houston scoreless, Latos finished with five innings pitched, allowing six hits and two runs.

"I don't like it when guys get hits off of me, so I try to shove it to the next guy and try to get him out and just strand those runners," Latos said. "I did that a couple of times today."

Once Latos was pulled after what Black called a "tough 98 pitches," the San Diego (27-33) bullpen took over and allowed three hits over the last four innings, holding the Astros scoreless.

"They have a really good staff and their bullpen is deep, and they have a lot of power arms coming out of the 'pen," Houston first baseman Brett Wallace said. "You just have to grind through them and try to get pitches to hit. We weren't able to do that the last couple of days."

While the Padres' pitchers were being typically brutish, the bats were coming alive again. The Padres have scored 20 runs in the first four games of this homestand. The last time they were at PETCO Park, they tallied 11 runs in eight games.

In the first inning on Sunday, in front of 21,958, Jason Bartlett got the scoring started off Astros starter Jordan Lyles (0-1).

"It was just a quality at-bat," Chase Headley said about Bartlett's nine-pitch at-bat, which ended with an RBI triple to left-center. "He fought off some tough pitches and obviously came through. It's nice to kind of see a [pitcher] early, see what he has. There's definitely an advantage when you have seen a guy and kind of know what to expect.

"I think for him to go out there and fight off a bunch of pitches was beneficial -- obviously for him, but also the rest of the guys coming up behind him."

That played out over the next few at-bats. Brad Hawpe hit an RBI single to knock in Bartlett from third, and Aaron Cunningham drove in Ryan Ludwick from third in the subsequent at-bat by hitting into a force at second base.

The Padres made it 4-1 in the third inning when Headley knocked in Bartlett with a double to left field. Houston's first run came in the top of the third on a single to left-center by Lee that drove in Michael Bourn.

"We have a number of guys who are swinging the bats better, and when you do that, [pitchers] can't nitpick with guys, they've got to come at you, because the next guy behind you is going to get them if they don't," said Headley, who, with two doubles, a run, an RBI and a walk in five plate appearances, extended his hitting streak to a career-best 15 games.

The Astros, on the other hand, left nine runners on base, a testament to both the San Diego pitchers' resiliency and Houston's inability to hit when it counted.

"It's important that we get big hits with guys on base, especially in scoring position," Wallace said. "I think we've done a good job of that all season. It's a little uncharacteristic, but we have to get back to the basics."

The Padres tacked on three insurance runs. After coming up big with an RBI single on Saturday, Alberto Gonzalez plated two in the seventh inning on Sunday with a bases-loaded double to right field. And in the eighth inning, Chris Denorfia scored from third after a pitch got past catcher Robinson Cancel.

With the victory, the Padres won their second home series of the season, and the seven runs ties the most they've scored at PETCO Park this season.

Call it improvement or call it momentum, the Padres just hope it's going to stick around.

"We've been playing a lot better," Headley said. "We feel like we're playing more like we're capable of playing and how we want to play. Fortunately, we didn't play bad enough that we played ourselves out of [the division race] early. We're still within striking distance. I like the way we're playing. If we can keep it going, we'll be right back in it."

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