Astros 7, Nationals 6

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HOUSTON (AP)—Pitching to Morgan Ensberg isn’t any easier than facing Lance Berkman.

Maybe now, teams will finally learn.

Ensberg hit a two-run double in the sixth inning after Livan Hernandez intentionally walked Berkman to load the bases, giving the Houston Astros the cushion they later needed to beat the Washington Nationals 7-6 Wednesday night.

It was the third time since July 8 that Ensberg has made a team pay for intentionally walking Berkman to get to him. The first was a game-winning double against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the second an RBI single against Pittsburgh on July 20.

“It’s probably the right move,” said Ensberg, who has previously been upset when teams pitched around Berkman. “Lance Berkman is a great left-handed hitter. They’re just looking for an out, and the book says go righty versus righty.”

Brad Lidge got the save despite a shaky ninth, striking out pinch-hitter Jose Guillen with runners at the corners to end it. Houston moved two games ahead of Washington in the NL wild-card race.

Craig Biggio also had a run-scoring double and four hits for the Astros, who resumed their home dominance after dropping the series opener Tuesday. The Astros are 37-16 at Minute Maid Park, where they have not lost consecutive games since June 4 and will play their next 11.

Jose Vidro and Hernandez homered for the Nationals, who are struggling in one-run games. Once baseball’s best team in close games—Washington had a stretch of 12 straight wins in one-run games before the All-Star break—the Nationals have dropped 13 of their last 14 games decided by one run.

“These will come back to haunt you in the end,” Nationals manager Frank Robinson said. “We just can’t keep making mistakes, squandering opportunities, because it will cost us against the better ballclubs.”

Washington’s first two batters reached in the ninth against Lidge, but Vidro lined into a double play when Berkman—who moved from left field to first base in the ninth for defense—made a diving catch and Brandon Watson was caught off the bag.

After Nick Johnson’s RBI double and Brad Wilkerson’s run-scoring single, Lidge fanned Guillen for his 28th save in 31 chances.

Wandy Rodriguez (7-5) lasted five innings and earned the win despite struggling against Hernandez (13-5). The Nationals’ starter also had an RBI double and a single.

But Hernandez’s hitting was not enough to make up for dreadful innings in the first and sixth. Orlando Palmeiro cleared the bases in the first with a three-run double deep down the right-field line, capping a four-run inning.

Hernandez is 1-3 in his last seven starts. He allowed seven runs—five earned—and 10 hits, the third consecutive start that he’s allowed 10 or more hits.

“Nobody is perfect all the time,” said Hernandez, whose five earned runs allowed were a season high. “I felt very good tonight but I had lots of problems in the fist inning.”

The Nationals have not strung together back-to-back wins on the road since July 3. They are 3-9 away from Washington since the All-Star break and are two games into an 11-game road swing, their longest of the season.

Vidro’s homer in the first was his seventh.


Guillen’s appearance in the ninth was his first since he was taken out of the lineup Saturday because of a sore shoulder. … Biggio snapped an 0-for-12 slump with his season-high four hits. … The Nationals had been 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position before Hernandez’s double to score Preston Wilson. … Hernandez entered 4-0 in four career starts at Minute Maid Park. … Willy Taveras is 5-for-8 in the series. His 40 multihit games are the most by an Astros rookie since Jeff Bagwell had 41 in 1991.

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