WASHINGTON - First things first: The Washington Nationals actually scored in the first inning, the only time they've managed to do that all season.

Austin Kearns hit a three-run homer to stake Washington to an early lead, Matt Chico earned his second major-league victory, and the NL-worst Nationals held off the New York Mets, 4-3, last night

Washington set a league record by playing 22 games at the start of a season without scoring a first-inning run, but Kearns ended the drought with a shot to left-center off Oliver Perez (2-2). Kearns' second homer of 2007 followed singles by Ronnie Belliard and Dmitri Young - a real outburst from a club that was hitting .071 (5-for-70) in first innings until yesterday.

That turned out to be enough for Chico (2-2), who was much sharper than in his previous outing. He gave up two runs and walked one batter in 51/3 steady innings - a significant improvement from his previous time on the mound, when he walked seven and threw two wild pitches, including one into the stands.

Pirates 3, Reds 1

PITTSBURGH - Ian Snell limited Cincinnati to six hits over seven shutout innings in another excellent start, and Jason Bay's two-run double got Pittsburgh going in the first inning of a victory.

The Pirates matched their longest winning streak of last season by winning their fifth in a row to move above .500 at 11-10 - a modest achievement for some teams but a turnaround for one that was 5-16 and nine games out of first place a year ago.

The Reds lost their third straight and seventh in nine games.

Cubs 5, Cardinals 3

ST. LOUIS - Jason Marquis beat his old team for the second straight time and Felix Pie hit his first career home run in Chicago's victory over St. Louis.

Pie and Aramis Ramirez hit two-run homers in the fourth inning for the Cubs, who have won consecutive games for the first time since April 6-7.

Brewers 4, Astros 1

HOUSTON - J.J. Hardy's two-run double off Roy Oswalt capped a three-run seventh inning, and Milwaukee beat Houston to hand the Astros their seventh consecutive loss.

Johnny Estrada homered in the eighth off new Astros reliever Stephen Randolph, helping the Brewers win for the seventh time in nine games.