Astros 5, Nationals 4, 12 innings

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HOUSTON (AP)—Eric Bruntlett sat in the Houston Astros’ dugout for hours on Monday wondering, as he usually does, whether he would play.

When manager Phil Garner finally called on his valued reserve in the 12th inning, Bruntlett produced a game-winning sacrifice fly that scored Craig Biggio in a 5-4 win over the Washington Nationals.

“You’ve been sitting around for three-plus hours, and then you have to come in and get the job done,” Bruntlett said. “It isn’t easy.”

Bruntlett is used to it. He won two games last season in the Astros’ final at-bat, including a three-run homer that ended a 14-inning game in Washington last July.

“He’s tremendous,” Lance Berkman said. “The thing that makes him so good is he can sit over there for a week with almost no activity, and when you call upon him, he’s always ready to go.”

Biggio led off the 12th inning with a double and advanced on Willy Taveras’ bunt. Biggio was 0-for-5 before lining his 608th double off the metal scoreboard in left field.

“He didn’t have a lot of good swings,” Garner said of Biggio. “True to the Hall of Fame moniker he’ll be wearing, he came through.”

Mike Stanton (0-1) intentionally walked Berkman and Morgan Ensberg, who had homered off Chad Cordero in the 10th to tie the game at 4-4.

Bruntlett, pinch hitting for reliever Chad Qualls, hit a high fly to center fielder Brandon Watson, and Biggio crouched at third as he awaited the catch. Watson’s throw home was high and late, and Biggio easily slid in with the winning run.

Bruntlett’s fly ball was shallow, but Biggio noticed Watson went flat-footed for a split-second before throwing home. Third-base coach Doug Mansolino told Biggio to go.

“I’m just trying to get the best jump I can,” Biggio said. “If he tells me to go, I’m going.”

Houston took three out of four from the Nationals, who play their home opener Tuesday against the New York Mets.

Jose Vidro, who had eight RBIs in the series, was looking forward to heading home after starting the season with seven straight road games.

“I thought we could’ve won more than two,” Vidro said. “2-and-five. Basically, I’m not pleased with that. We’ve got to go home and get back on the right track.”

Berkman and Preston Wilson homered for Houston—the fourth time they’ve homered in the same game.

“It’s one of those anomalies,” Berkman said. “I couldn’t tell you what’s going on.”

Wilson, acquired in January to boost the Astros’ offense, had a simpler explanation.

“I’m jealous,” he said with a smile. “Hopefully, we’ll keep it up.”

Washington, which trailed 3-1, went ahead 4-3 when pinch-hitter Daryle Ward hit a solo homer off Brad Lidge in the 10th.

Ensberg answered in the bottom half against Cordero with his first home run of the season.

Lidge, who gave up homers to Albert Pujols in the NL championship series and Scott Podsednik in the World Series, was replaced in the 11th by Chad Qualls (1-1), who got the final six outs.

“Brad, obviously, didn’t want to take the loss,” Ensberg said. “I think he was pretty happy when he saw that ball go over the fence.”

Vidro had two RBI singles for the Nationals, who played the series finale without manager Frank Robinson. Bench coach Eddie Rodriguez led the team as Robinson served a one-game suspension for his role in last Thursday’s game against the New York Mets, in which five batters were hit by pitches.

Nationals starter John Patterson gave up three runs and five hits in six innings, and Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings.

Berkman hit his third first-inning homer of the season, and Wilson homered in the second for a 2-0 lead. Wilson also crashed into the left-field wall to catch a deep fly by Nick Johnson and Berkman leaned into the crowd to snare a foul by Matt LeCroy.

Vidro had his first RBI single in the third, and Eric Munson hit a sacrifice fly that made it 3-1 in the fourth. Byrd grounded into a run-scoring double play in the fifth, and Vidro’s single later in the inning tied it.


Berkman, a switch hitter, has hit all four of his homers from the left side. … Vice President Dick Cheney is to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals’ home opener Tuesday against the New York Mets. … The Nationals have been outscored 19-7 in the first through third innings.

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