HOUSTON -- The leap from second place to first place in the NL Central isn't getting the Houston Astros too excited.
Craig Biggio hit the 28th leadoff homer of his career, two short of the NL record, and Vinny Castilla and Daryle Ward also homered as the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 9-5 Monday night and moved into first place in the NL Central.
The Astros took a half-game lead over the Cubs, who had been in first place since May 29. The Astros had been in second place since June 30. The Astros hadn't been alone in first place since April 14, although they shared the lead for one day on May 19.
Still, there are nine games remaining between the two front-runners.
''One-half game doesn't feel real safe against the Cubs,'' Astros manager Larry Dierker said. ''It was nice to win this one. I feel pretty good. We've had pretty good teamwork the past couple of weeks. We've had one guy picking up another, but there is a long way to go.''
Biggio hit the first pitch from Jason Bere (8-6) for his major league-leading seventh leadoff homer this season and his second in three games. Bobby Bonds holds the NL record with 30 leadoff homers.
''Every game from here on out is a big game, it's a pennant game,'' Biggio said. ''But we've just got to go out and take care of our own stuff like we did tonight.''
The Astros won for the 10th time in 13 games and Chicago dropped its eighth in 12 games. Chicago started August 4 1/2 games ahead of the Astros.
''Obviously, we've been the team trying to catch them and they've been looking in their rearview mirrors,'' Jeff Bagwell said. ''There's a lot of guys here who've been in pennant races before. You've got to take care of yourselves and don't worry about anyone else.''
The Cubs certainly aren't conceding anything. Kerry Wood is on the disabled list, but the Cubs got third baseman Bill Mueller back.
''We've got 45 games left, we have to find a way to crawl back into first place,'' Cubs manager Don Baylor said. ''Woody's out but Mueller's back. The Cardinals are right in the middle of it too. That's what this team has to do, too. I think this is a three-team race. Three teams will fight it out.''
Shane Reynolds (11-10) improved his record to 7-0 with a 2.03 ERA in eight starts against the Cubs since Aug. 4, 1998. He pitched 7 1-3 innings, allowed six hits, walked three and struck out three.
Diamondbacks 3, Pirates 0
PHOENIX -- Randy Johnson pitched a five-hitter for his 30th career shutout and Luis Gonzalez and Matt Williams homered as the Diamondbacks won their fourth straight.
Johnson (16-5) became the second 16-game winner in the majors, behind only teammate Curt Schilling's 17. He struck out 10 in his first complete game since April 23 when he blanked Florida 9-0.
The victory stretched Arizona's NL West lead over San Francisco to one game.
Johnson didn't walk anyone, but he hit a batter and committed an error to account for two of the seven baserunners he had to contend with.
Jimmy Anderson (6-13) allowed only five hits in 6 2-3 innings, but gave up three runs on Gonzalez's solo shot in the first inning and Williams' two-run blast in the sixth.
Cardinals 3, Reds 2
ST. LOUIS -- Edgar Renteria capped a three-run eighth inning with a two-out, two-run single as St. Louis gained its fifth straight victory.
The Cardinals, winning five in a row for the first time since June 15-19, had just five hits in the first seven innings against Elmer Dessens (8-9) before Fernando Vina and Placido Polanco started the eighth with singles to put runners at the corners.
Mark McGwire hit a sacrifice fly, Albert Pujols walked and reliever Hector Mercado walked Jim Edmonds before Scott Sullivan struck out Craig Paquette.
Renteria then grounded a 2-1 pitch between shortstop and third base to drive in two runs.
Andy Benes (7-6) faced just one batter and got the victory.
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