The Astros, however, are giving the NL East leaders all they can handle.
Coming off their second straight extra-inning win in Houston, the Nationals again look to add to the Astros' misery Wednesday night in the third of a four-game set.
Although Washington's record is 31 1/2 games better than Houston's, the first two games of this series could have gone either way.
The Nationals (67-43) won Monday's opener 5-4 in 12 innings as Kurt Suzuki 's bunt single produced a pair of throwing errors, allowing Roger Bernadina to score the winning run from first. A night later, Danny Espinosa hit a two-run homer in the second inning and had an RBI single in the 12th to break a 2-all tie. The Astros (36-75) had a chance in the bottom of the 12th with runners on first and second and two outs, but Bernadina made a sensational running catch while crashing into the wall to end the game and lift Washington to its fourth win in a row and 14th in 19 games."They're holding together and doing a great job, but we need a laugher," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said.
The Astros probably could use one even more, but unlike the Nationals, who own a four-game lead over Atlanta in the East, the rest of their season is pretty inconsequential.
Houston is 4-32 since June 28, and 0-11 in extra innings this season."We're not winning them, but there is a lot to learn," Astros first baseman Brett Wallace said. "We just have keeping building off of that, and eventually those balls will fall."
The Astros got on the scoreboard first Tuesday on Ben Francisco 's two-run, first-inning homer, but managed just four hits the rest of the way.
The extra innings gave Washington's Michael Morse a chance to extend his hitting streak. He took advantage, doubling to start the 12th inning after an 0-for-4 start. Morse is batting .324 during a career-best 16-game streak.
Adam LaRoche , however, was hitless in five at-bats after batting .458 with four homers and 10 RBIs in his previous six games. He is 3 for 4 with a homer against Armando Galarraga (0-1, 5.23 ERA), Houston's probable Wednesday starter.
Galarraga had little luck harnessing his control against Atlanta on Friday, issuing a career-high seven walks while also hitting a batter. Five more Braves reached base via hits over the 5 1-3 innings he pitched. Galarraga allowed only four runs, but suffered a 4-1 loss in his second start after being recalled from Triple-A Oklahoma City on July 28.
This will be his first career appearance against the Nationals, who counter with Gio Gonzalez (13-6, 3.34).
Gonzalez gave up four runs and a season-worst nine hits in a season-high eight innings of a 5-2 loss to Miami on Friday. He also matched a season-best with 10 strikeouts while walking none for only the third time in 22 starts.
The left-hander has only one win in his last five starts, and a 5.14 ERA in his last two outings after yielding two runs or fewer in three of his previous four.
Gonzalez gave up two hits and two walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings of a 1-0 win over Houston on April 17, his lone career start versus the Astros.
|August 05, 2012||Mark DeRosa||15-Day DL||Left abdominal strain|
|August 01, 2012||Henry Rodriguez||15-Day DL||Strained lower back|
|July 29, 2012||Adam LaRoche||Day-to-Day||Left game - Back tightness|
|July 22, 2012||Ian Desmond||15-Day DL||Torn left oblique|
|July 18, 2012||Jhonatan Solano||15-Day DL||Strained right oblique|
|July 01, 2012||Chien-Ming Wang||15-Day DL||Strained right hip|
|August 07, 2012||Jordan Schafer||15-Day DL||Left shoulder separation|
|August 02, 2012||Francisco Cordero||15-Day DL||Inflamed right big toe|
|July 31, 2012||Wilton Lopez||Day-to-Day||Right elbow tightness|
|July 15, 2012||Jed Lowrie||15-Day DL||Sprained right ankle|
|July 14, 2012||Jed Lowrie||Day-to-Day||Right ankle|
|July 08, 2012||Jason Castro||15-Day DL||Fluid in right knee|
HOUSTON (AP) -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson admits he's a hugger and that he heaped embraces on Gio Gonzalez after his big game Wednesday night.
For the break he gave Washington's overused bullpen, Johnson thinks his relievers should be lining up to hug him too.
Gonzalez pitched a nine-inning complete game and hit a home run - both career firsts - to lead the Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros .
Johnson was hoping Gonzalez (14-6) could go deep into this game after his bullpen had been taxed with games of 11 and 12 innings to start this series.
He got just what he wanted from Gonzalez, whose other complete game was an eight-inning outing when he was with Oakland in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox on Aug. 1, 2010.
"Gio couldn't have been any better," Johnson said. "He pitched an outstanding ball game ... it was just a great outing by him to save the bullpen."
Things got dicey in the ninth when he allowed three hits and a run and had the tying run on third before striking out Matt Downs to end the game.
He allowed nine hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
Gonzalez broke a 1-1 tie with his two-run, first-pitch homer into the Crawford Boxes in left field in the second inning.
"I couldn't enjoy it too much," Gonzalez said of the home run. "It was one of those things where you hit it and you're like: `Oh that felt good,' and then move forward after that."
Gonzalez couldn't suppress his grin after the game and talked about the 52 text messages he had waiting for him. He had already placed his home run ball proudly in the top of his locker.
"It means a lot. The first time in my career going nine innings (and) also getting the home run," he said. "Today is one of those things where you can just can smile about it, but tomorrow is a new day,"
Houston cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning but Washington added an insurance run on an error in the seventh.
Astros starter Armando Galarraga (0-2) yielded six hits and three runs with six walks in five-plus innings to remain winless in three starts this season since being promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma City.
"I need to make an adjustment," he said. "I need to make a big adjustment. I threw the ball bad. I need to be honest with myself. Six walks after seven walks. There's not an excuse for that. I have to make an adjustment and work on my mechanics."
Brandon Barnes got his first career hit on a single with one out in the ninth. Barnes scored from second on a single by Ben Francisco with two outs to get Houston within 4-3.
Jose Altuve singled after that before Gonzalez got Downs to wrap up his big night.
Galarraga got off to a tough start, walking the first two batters he faced. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single, but Steve Lombardozzi couldn't beat the throw and was out at home.
Washington took a 1-0 lead when Bryce Harper scored on a balk. The play first looked to be a sacrifice fly by Adam LaRoche , but replays showed that home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called the balk before Galarraga threw the pitch that LaRoche hit.
Altuve hit a leadoff double for Houston and scored on a single by Justin Maxwell to tie it at 1-all.
With Washington up 3-2 after Gonzalez's homer, J.D. Martinez singled with one out in the fourth, took second on a balk and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Corporan to get Houston within 3-2.
The Nationals were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
A big opportunity came in the sixth when Jayson Werth walked to start the inning before Danny Espinosa singled. Kurt Suzuki drew a walk to load the bases and chase Galarraga who was replaced by Xavier Cedeno . Gonzalez grounded into a forceout. Cedeno then retired Lombardozzi and struck out Harper.
Harper was unhappy with a couple of the calls during the at-bat. First he headed toward first base on a 3-1 count that was called a strike and later yelled: "No way" when he struck out looking.
Harper is 0-for-11 in this series and Johnson plans to give him a day off Thursday.
"He's pressing a little bit," Johnson said. "I'll give him the day off ... and let him regroup a little bit. He didn't have good (at-bats), so I'll let him step back a little bit."
Zimmerman doubled in the seventh and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored and Werth reached on an error by third baseman Downs when he bounced the throw to first base.
NOTES: Nationals LF Michael Morse singled in the fourth inning to extend his career-long hitting streak to 17 games. ... Johnson said before the game that Werth, who was held out of Tuesday's lineup with soreness in his legs, was better on Wednesday, but "not good enough to play center field." ... These teams wrap up the four-game series on Thursday when Washington right-hander Jordan Zimmermann opposes Lucas Harrell .