Astros 4, Nationals 2

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WASHINGTON (AP)—Brad Lidge was back in the closer’s role, back to pitching effectively under pressure, back to earning a save.

Now he just hopes to stay with the Houston Astros.

Lidge struck out two in the ninth inning for his first save since 2006, Carlos Lee hit a two-run homer and rookie Hunter Pence added a tiebreaking solo shot, helping Houston beat the Washington Nationals 4-2 Tuesday night.

“The adrenaline’s still there. It feels good,” said Lidge, who returned from the disabled list last week and had been 0-for-3 in save chances this season. “I’ve gone back to what I’ve done in the past. For me, it’s a big accomplishment to get back into that mechanical groove.”

There was another rare sight out of Houston’s bullpen as the team ended a seven-game road losing slide: Staff ace Roy Oswalt made his first relief appearance in more than a year, retiring the only batter he faced in the seventh.

“Roy had requested an opportunity to throw,” manager Phil Garner said. “He had six days between starts in this span here. We told him we’d get him in.”

Oswalt threw three pitches after replacing Chris Sampson (7-6), who went 6 2-3 innings for his first victory since June 8. Sampson gave up solo homers to Ronnie Belliard in the first inning and Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth.

Oswalt was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, so Dan Wheeler came on to pitch the bottom half. With Chad Qualls starting a three-game suspension, Garner next turned to Lidge, a former All-Star who once was one of baseball’s dominant closers.

He led all relievers in strikeouts in 2004 and 2005, and converted 69 of 75 save chances over those seasons. But the right-hander never has been quite the same since giving up a ninth-inning homer to St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NL championship series. Lidge’s last save before Tuesday came on Sept. 28, 2006.

During this outing, he repeatedly hit 97 mph and got cleanup hitter Dmitri Young—who leads the NL in batting at .341—to fly out, struck out Ryan Church, walked Austin Kearns, then struck out Felipe Lopez to end it.

“That’s a pretty good slider, that’s all I can say,” Church said. “It’s a good pitch, and then he’s got 97 in the tank. Going in there, you know he’s going to throw it to you. You have to hope he’s going to leave it up, because when it’s down, it’s nasty.”

Said Sampson: “He’s kind of struggled in the past, but he’s worked his way back. I feel like he’s back. It’s great to have him back.”

Now the question becomes whether Houston, 13 1/2 games out of first in the NL Central, might trade Lidge to a contender.

“This is where I want to stay,” said Lidge, whose previous save opportunity came against Oakland on June 12. “I’m happy closing games for Houston. This is what I want to do for the rest of my career if I can. … At the same time, I understand we have certain needs, and I understand how the game is.”

This game was tied at 2-2 heading into the fifth thanks to Lee’s drive to left off Tim Redding (1-2) on a fastball that was up and over the plate. It was Lee’s 18th homer and second in two nights.

Pence then led off the fifth by hitting Redding’s 2-2 curveball over the wall in left for his 12th homer.

“I think he’s got a little Vladimir Guerrero in him,” Redding said. “He’s aggressive, he swings at a lot of pitches and he makes contact on a lot of pitches. He’s not hitting .340-plus by mistake.”


Sampson hit Nationals C Brian Schneider just above the right elbow with a pitch in the seventh; Schneider left the game in the ninth. He’ll miss Wednesday’s game but hopes to be back in the lineup Thursday against Colorado. … Redding matched his longest major league outing since May 30, 2004, by lasting seven innings. … There was an odd delay with one out in the top of the seventh, when Nationals CF Nook Logan trotted in from the outfield to the infield so he could swap his pants belt for a new one. … Zimmerman’s solo shot was his 15th homer; Belliard’s was his fifth.

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