Estrada slames Brewers into NL Central’s top spot

HOUSTON – Johnny Estrada hit his second grand slam of the season against Houston and Milwaukee overcame an injury to Ben Sheets to beat the Astros 9-1 on Tuesday night and move into first place in the NL Central.

Claudio Vargas (11-4) pitched four scoreless innings in relief of Sheets, who left with tightness in his left hamstring after giving up a run in the first. Team officials said Sheets would be evaluated today.

The Astros have lost 10 of their last 13 games.

Ryan Braun added a two-run homer and Prince Fielder stretched his hitting streak to 16 games with an RBI single for the Brewers, who moved ahead of Chicago by less than a percentage point after the Cubs’ 5-2 loss to Cincinnati.

n Reds 5, Cubs 2: Aaron Harang allowed six hits and two runs over seven innings and Cincinnati knocked Chicago out of first place in the NL Central.

David Weathers worked the ninth for his 31st save in 37 chances. Edwin Encarnacion homered and had three hits for the Reds.

Carlos Zambrano (16-13) dropped to 2-4 in six starts since agreeing to a five-year, $91.5 million contract on Aug. 17. Working on three days’ rest for the first time, he lasted just 5 1-3 innings, giving up seven hits and four runs with three walks and a hit batsman.

n Nationals 9, Mets 8: John Maine squandered a big lead and New York’s losing streak reached five games when its ninth-inning rally fell short.

New York built leads of 4-0 and 7-3 for Maine, but he couldn’t hang on. Ronnie Belliard’s three-run homer capped a five-run fifth that gave Washington an 8-7 lead, and pinch-hitter D’Angelo Jimenez added a solo shot in the sixth off Scott Schoeneweis.

The Mets scored once in the ninth against closer Chad Cordero, but pinch-hitter Ruben Gotay struck out with runners at the corners to end it.

n Rockies 3, Dodgers 1, 1st game: Jeff Francis struck out a career-high 10 for Colorado in the first game of a doubleheader.

Francis (16-8) allowed one run and six hits and stranded eight runners in 6 2-3 innings. His 10 strikeouts were the most by a Rockie since Jason Jennings had 10 against San Francisco on Aug. 28, 2003.

Chad Billingsley (11-5) allowed two earned runs and four hits in 5 1-3 innings. In his last five starts, Billingsley is 4-1 with a 1.87 ERA.

n Braves 4, Marlins 3: Atlanta scored all its runs on two-out singles and the Braves used seven pitchers for their third straight win.

Rafael Soriano pitched the ninth for his seventh save as the Marlins lost their third straight.

Jeff Francoeur, Edgar Renteria, Yunel Escobar and Brian McCann had the run-scoring singles for the Braves. Francoeur’s came in the first, Renteria’s in the second and Escobar’s in the fourth. McCann’s single in the fifth gave the Braves a 4-1 lead and chased rookie Chris Seddon (0-1).

American League

Yankees 12, Orioles 0: Mike Mussina allowed three singles over seven innings and Doug Mientkiewicz hit a three-run homer pull New York within 2 1/2 games of Boston in the AL East.

Mientkiewicz also had an RBI single, and Melky Cabrera and Hideki Matsui both drove in three runs for the Yankees, who are closing in on their 13th straight playoff appearance. Derek Jeter added three hits.

Ramon Hernandez singled twice and Miguel Tejada reached on an infield dribbler in the seventh for Baltimore’s only hits off Mussina (10-10). Mussina struck out six, walked one and has thrown 12 2-3 scoreless innings over two outings since returning to the rotation. He has won at least 10 games in an AL-record 16 straight seasons.

Blue Jays 4, Red Sox 3: A.J. Burnett came within one out of a complete game and Russ Adams drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run double in the eighth inning to lead Toronto.

Boston has lost three straight and had its lead in the AL East cut to 2 1/2 games over New York, after the Yankees’ 12-0 victory over Baltimore. It’s the smallest Red Sox lead since before play on April 26.

Boston led 2-1 in the eighth when Frank Thomas drew a two-out walk off reliever Eric Gagne (3-2). Aaron Hill singled and Matt Stairs walked before Gregg Zaun drew a five-pitch walk to tie the game. Adams’ double then barely cleared the outstretched arm of J.D. Drew in right field. Hill and Stairs scored but Zaun was thrown out at the plate.

n Indians 7, Tigers 4: Travis Hafner hit a three-run homer, and Cleveland unloaded for four homers off Justin Verlander.

Now 19-5 since Aug. 25, the Indians pushed their lead in the AL Central to 6 1/2 games over second-place Detroit. They reduced their magic number to five for clinching the division and a first playoff appearance since 2001.

Franklin Gutierrez hit a two-run homer and Victor Martinez and Ryan Garko added solo shots off Verlander (17-6), who had never given up four homers before and lost for just the second time in nine starts. Both of those were lopsided losses to the Indians.

n Twins 4, Rangers 2: Torii Hunter drove in two runs to set his career high for a season and Minnesota took advantage of shaky defense by Texas.

Rangers shortstop Michael Young made two of his three errors in the third inning when the Twins took a 2-1 lead.

Nick Punto led off the inning with a single and advanced to second on Young’s throwing error. He was thrown out at third during a rundown, but Jason Bartlett, whose chopper started the play, made it to second.

Jason Kubel followed with a grounder to Young, who threw it away for his second error, allowing Bartlett to score.

Hunter then drove in Kubel and set a career-high with his 103rd RBI. Hunter drove in another run with a double in the seventh that gave the Twins a 4-2 lead.

n Royals 3, White Sox 2: Gil Meche scattered four hits over seven innings, and Billy Butler drove in two runs for Kansas City.

Meche (9-12) has a 2.90 ERA over his past eight starts and has not allowed more than three runs in any of them. But he has had some of the worst run-support in baseball, and is just 2-3 over that stretch. He gave up two runs, one earned, while striking out five and walking two.