Nationals 6, Astros 5

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HOUSTON (AP)—Brandon Watson acknowledged he never hit many homers before.

Neither had the Washington Nationals.

Watson, making his major league debut, homered along with three of his teammates and the Nationals started a pivotal road trip with a 6-5 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night.

“It’s hard to stay calm in your first major league game,” said Watson, brought up by the Nationals from Triple-A New Orleans on Monday. “That’s a tough thing to do, but you’ve got to be thrown into the fire sometime.”

Brad Wilkerson, Brian Schneider and Vinny Castilla also homered for the Nationals, who snapped a 13-game losing streak in one-run games.

More importantly, the Nationals are now just one game behind the Astros in the NL wild-card race.

Washington began its 13-game road trip with a major league-worst .252 batting average and 77 home runs. But the Nationals homered four times Tuesday for the first time this season to win their first one-run decision since July 8.

John Patterson (6-3) earned the win despite allowing five runs in 5 2-3 innings, and Chad Cordero got the final four outs for his major league-leading 37th save.

Watson, who started in left field, was brought up to spark the Nationals’ offense. He is the 48th player the Nationals have used on their roster this season, tops in the majors.

The rookie’s first hit was a ground-rule double in the third that dropped inside the right-field line and bounced into the stands. He later scored on Castilla’s groundout.

Watson hit a two-out, solo homer his next at-bat in the fourth for a 5-1 Washington lead. The opposite-field drive barely cleared the left-field wall.

“That was a beautiful debut,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “That kid will be all right.”

Morgan Ensberg homered twice for the Astros.

Three of the Nationals’ homers came off Astros starter Ezequiel Astacio (2-5), who allowed five runs and six hits in four innings.

“In a game like this you certainly want to win, because the guy behind you in the standings is staring at you across the field,” Astros catcher Brad Ausmus said.

Watson’s homer came two batters after Schneider hit his eighth of the season. Schneider, who also singled, showed no signs of the ailing right shoulder that kept him out of the lineup the previous four games.

Patterson lasted until the sixth, when the Astros got two runs thanks to some shaky Nationals defense.

Patterson left with the bases loaded after shortstop Cristian Guzman’s underhand toss to second baseman Jose Vidro didn’t beat a sliding Eric Bruntlett. Robinson came out and protested the call, then replaced Patterson with Luis Ayala.

Ayala then got Craig Biggio to ground to Guzman, but the shortstop’s throw skipped past first baseman Nick Johnson. The error allowed Ausmus and Bruntlett to score.

The Astros put runners on the corners with two outs in the eighth, but Cordero came in and got Biggio to foul out to left.

“We had opportunities, that’s what hurts,” Astros manager Phil Garner said. “I just felt like this was going to be a game we were going to win.”

The win snapped a three-game slide for the Nationals, who have lost 17 of their 24 games since July 14.

Wilkerson and Castilla both hit their eighth homers of the season. Wilkerson connected in the second and Castilla in the fifth.

Notes

The last time the Nationals hit four home runs in a game was Aug. 24, 2004, against the Dodgers, when the franchise was still in Montreal. … With his home run in the second inning, Houston’s Ensberg became the first Astros third baseman to hit 30 home runs in a season. It was also his second multihomer game of the season. … Patterson, who grew up about 100 miles west of Houston in Orange, was making his appearance near his hometown. … The Nationals are 33-3 when scoring more than five runs.

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