HOUSTON (AP)—Two Washington Nationals players who don’t get much playing time made the most of their opportunities.
Willie Harris and Rob Mackowiak homered to help the Nationals beat Houston 8-3 Thursday night and end the Astros’ five-game winning streak. They were two of four reserves in the lineup as manager Manny Acta rested some of his starters.
“We don’t play every day,” Harris said. “The way we went out and swung the bats was really good for us. We gave our regulars a breather. Manny threw us out there, gave us a shot and we came through for him.”
John Lannan (3-3) allowed seven hits and one run in six innings and the Nationals snapped Houston’s eight-game winning streak at Minute Maid Park. The Astros averaged 7.3 runs and 11.5 hits in their previous eight home games.
Lannan bounced back after giving up six runs in three innings in his last start against Pittsburgh.
“I felt better, my confidence was up a little more,” said the 23-year-old left-hander.
Austin Kearns had a two-run single off Brandon Backe (2-4) as the Nationals won for the third time in their last 15 road games. Backe had a career-high nine strikeouts, but lost for only the fifth time in his last 21 decisions at home.
“Nine strikeouts, I’ll take it every time,” Backe said. “But I’ll take less strikeouts to win the game.”
Nick Johnson hit an RBI double in the first inning and Harris, making his seventh start of the season in center field, homered to right in the third to make it 2-0.
Berkman and Lee led off the sixth with singles, but Lannan got Pence to ground into a threat-killing double play.
“I’m a little disappointed, but I give the kid on the other side a lot of credit,” Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. “He had command of his fastball and he threw it down in the strike zone. That gave him a lot of ground balls, because he kept the ball down.”
Acta liked what he saw from Lannan, even though he struggled to find the strike zone at times.
“That last inning, he had to work himself out of that jam,” Acta said. “He worked a ‘Houdini’ just to work out of that one. The double-play ball was probably the hardest hit in the whole game.”
Backe led off the Astros’ fifth with a single, giving him four hits this season, tied for the team pitchers’ lead with Roy Oswalt.
Tim Byrdak relieved Backe to start the seventh and pinch hitter Aaron Boone led off with a double. Harris popped out and Cristian Guzman hit a hard liner back at Byrdak. The pitcher fell down as he caught it, then threw to second to double up Boone, who was already breaking for third.
Darin Erstad pinch-hit for Byrdak in the seventh and Mackowiak made a spectacular diving catch on his drive down the left-field line.
Mackowiak was Erstad’s teammate with the Chicago White Sox last season and joked that he felt bad for robbing his friend of a hit.
“I’m not saying you never want to take it from your buddy,” Mackowiak said, “but I know he’d do the same. He wouldn’t have given it to me, either.”
Ryan Zimmerman singled off Oscar Villarreal in the eighth and eventually scored on a wild pitch. Kearns walked and one out later, Mackowiak homered to left, his first since last July. Mackowiak was making just his fifth start of the season, but his third since April 30.
“It’s been a lot easier to be in there once every three days, once a series,” Mackowiak said. “When you do get in there, you feel like you are ready. You feel a lot better about yourself.”
The Nationals are 12-1 when leading after the sixth inning. … Michael Bourn stole two bases for Houston and is 15-for-15 this season. … Johnson has reached base in 27 of 30 starts this season. … Berkman went 2-for-3 and has five consecutive multihit games. He has reached base in 16 of his last 20 plate appearances.