Nationals 4-3 over Astros: Adam LaRoche's RBI single in ninth puts Nats ahead

Bob Levey

The Washington Nationals and Houston Astros were tied up at 3-3 after eight, but Adam LaRoche drove in the go-ahead run to put the Nats ahead 4-3 and then Rafael Soriano came on to close out the win in the first game of two in Minute Maid Park.

Minute Maid Park Top 5:

5. Quick Recap: 34-year-old Washington Nationals' DH (that's a designated hitter, NL fans) Jayson Werth got things going tonight in Houston, Texas, with a two-out solo home run off the HALLIBURTON sign above the Crawford Boxes in left field in Minute Maid Park. Werth took 23-year-old Astros' right-hander Jarred Cosart deep on an 0-2 curve for his 4th HR of 2014 and a 1-0 lead early in the first game of two with the AL West's 'Stros.

Kevin Frandsen got the start in left field tonight with Bryce Harper out of the lineup following surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb, and the veteran infielder took a curve to the bicep to reach base in his first at bat. Jose Lobaton doubled to right field in the at bat that followed and Frandsen scored when the Astros' rookie right fielder George Springer misplayed the ball in the corner. 2-0 Nationals after two.

The Astros took the lead in the bottom of the third, however, and they did it with two down. Matt Dominguez doubled to start the inning, took third on a sac bunt, and scored with two down on a single to center by Dexter Fowler. Jason Castro doubled off the wall in left-center in the next at bat and he and Fowler scored on two-run line drive to left by Astros' rookie George Springer as Houston took a 3-2 lead.

After Jayson Werth singled to center to start the eighth, Astros' skipper Bo Porter went to the pen for a lefty to face Adam LaRoche, but the Nats' first baseman took a 2-1 fastball from Raul Valdes to left-center for an RBI double that Dexter Fowler almost took off the outfield wall. 3-3 game in Minute Maid Park.

Astros' reliever Josh Fields walked Denard Span to start the ninth and Span stole second with Anthony Rendon up before moving to third on Rendon's groundout and after a Jayson Werth walk, he scored on an RBI line drive to right by Adam LaRoche. 4-3 Nationals.

Rafael Soriano came on and saved no.5 of 2014. 4-3 final.

4. Healthy Gio: Gio Gonzalez, 28, gave up two hits and a walk in a 20-pitch, scoreless first last time out on the mound against the LA Angels in the nation's capital. After loading the bases with one down, however, he got an inning-ending double play on a line drive to short that ended a scoreless frame. On a cold night in D.C., the Washington Nationals' starter took a while to get loose.

"Just trying to find the strike zone," he said of his early struggles. "Trying to warm up a little bit, especially with the weather. So, a little difficult trying to get a feel for it and after that just wanted to be aggressive and attack the strike zone."

Gonzalez completed five scoreless innings, but along the way experienced tightness in his shoulder and when he gave up a walk and a game-tying RBI double in the sixth, Nats' skipper Matt Williams made the decision to lift the left-hander.

"Ordinarily I wouldn't take him out of the game there," Williams said, "but we want to make sure that he's okay for our future too. So, cold and windy and he had a little bit of tightness so we wanted to make sure he's okay."

Gonzalez insisted he would make his next start after the game, and went through his normal routine in preparation for tonight's outing, which was the third of his career against a Houston Astros team that was part of the National League the last time he faced them in 2012. Gonzalez was (2-0) in those two starts before tonight, with a 1.69 ERA, four walks (2.25 BB/9) and 15 Ks (8.44 K/9) in 16 IP over which he'd held Astros' hitters to a .200/.262/.218 line.

Tonight in Minute Maid Park...

1st: Gio Gonzalez took the mound with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Jayson Werth's two-out blast in the top of the first. Jose Altuve flew to left on an 0-1 fastball to start the bottom of the first inning. Dexter Fowler K'd swinging at a 94 mph 3-2 fastball for out no.2 and K no.1 for Gonzalez. Jason Castro got ahead 3-1 and walked with two down, but  2011 11th Round pick George Springer, who went five picks after Anthony Rendon that year, K'd looking to end a 19-pitch first for the Nationals' starter.

2nd: Jesus Guzman flew out to center field in Minute Maid Park to start the Astros' second. Chris Carter K'd swinging at a letter-high fastball outside for out no.2 and K no.3 for Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez fell behind L.J. Hoes, 3-1, but got a foul with a fastball for strike two and a called strike three to end a 15-pitch inning that left him at 34 total after two.

3rd: Matt Dominguez doubled off the top of the out-of-town scoreboard in left in Minute Maid Park to start the Astros' third. Jonathan Villar bunted the runner over to third/gave up an out. Jose Altuve stepped in with a run 90 ft away and popped to short left for the second out of the inning, but Dexter Fowler came through with a two-out RBI single that cut the Nats' lead in half, 2-1. Jason Castro doubled off the outfield wall in left on a 2-0 fastball from Gonzalez, and only a silly-good backhand play by Kevin Frandsen in left kept the Nats ahead, but George Springer's two-out, two-run single to left by the Astros ahead 3-2. 26-pitch inning, 60 pitches total after three.

4th: After a pop to short by Chris Carter, Gio Gonzalez walked Astros' left fielder L.J. Hoes with one down in the bottom of the fourth. Matt Dominguez flew out to deep center in Minute Maid Park where Denard Span made a basket catch at the bottom of Tal's Hill. Jonathan Villar stepped in with a runner in scoring position on second and battled for five pitches before taking a 79 mph 1-2 curve for a called strike three. 19-pitch inning for Gonzalez, 79 pitches total after three.

5th: Jose Altuve flew to left on a 1-1 fastball. An 80 mph 2-2 curve got Dexter Fowler swinging for out no.2 and Gonzalez's sixth K. Jason Castro K'd looking at a another 2-2 bender as the Nats' starter wrapped up a quick, 13-pitch, 1-2-3 frame. 92 total after five.

6th: George Springer K'd swinging through an 0-2 curve for out no.1 in the sixth and K no.8. Jesus Guzman singled to center on Gonzalez's 101st pitch. K no.9 came on a backdoor 0-2 bender to Chris Carter that got the Astros' outfielder looking. A groundout to second by L.J. Hoes ended a 19-pitch inning that left Gio Gonzalez at 111 pitches overall.

Gio Gonzalez's line: 6.0 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 9 Ks, 111 P, 65 S, 3/4 GO/FO.

3. Rendhome: Anthony Rendon went to school at Rice University, approximately nine minutes away from Minute Maid Park, which is located on Crawford St. in Houston, Texas. We don't mention this often, but the Owls' third baseman, who would go on to become the no.6 overall pick in the 2011 Draft, walked more than he K'd in college, drawing 178 walks to just 78 Ks over 187 games in which he put up up a combined .371/.505/.479 line with 46 doubles and 52 home runs.

After a .265/.329/.396, 23 double, seven home run rookie campaign last season, the hard-hitting Nats' second/third baseman is off to a strong start in season no.2 in the majors with a .298/.339/.500 line, eight doubles, two triples and three home runs through the first 26 games and 112 plate appearances.

Back in Houston tonight, Rendon K'd looking in his first at bat against Astros' right-hander Jarred Cosart.

Rendon went the other way with an 0-2 cutter for a single in his second at bat, 1 for 2.

Denard Span singled in front of Rendon in the top of the fifth inning, but the Nats' third baseman fouled strike three into Jason Castro's mitt for the second out of the frame.

Rendon was 1 for 4 on the night after a grounder back to the mound ended the seventh.

At bat no.5 came with a runner on first and no one out in the ninth. A broken bat grounder move Span over to third with one down. 1 for 5 on the night.

2. Thumbs up: Bryce Harper underwent surgery on his left thumb today after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament last week. The Nationals' 21-year-old slugger is expected to miss two months as he recovers from the injury he suffered when he slid headfirst into third base on a three-run double he tried to stretch into a three-base hit. There was plenty of chatter about Harper and blame assigned over the last few days, but the good news for Nats fans is that the procedure was performed and Harper's now officially on his way to recovery... Plus he took the time to do his hair for the post-op pic he tweeted today and I think he's even making a duck face...

1. The Wrap-up: Gio Gonzalez was done after six, replaced on the mound by Craig Stammen, who threw a quick, nine-pitch, 1-2-3 seventh vs the Astros.

Jayson Werth singled to start the Nats' eighth, prompting former Nats' coach and current Astros' Manager Bo Porter to go for the pen and lefty Raul Valdes with Adam LaRoche due up and the Nats' first baseman took the southpaw to left-center field for an RBI double that Dexter Fowler almost pulled down off the wall. Werth scored on the hit to tie it at 3-3 and Porter went to his pen again. Ian Desmond stepped in with the go-ahead run at second against Chad Qualls and went down swinging. Danny Espinosa grounded back to the mound for out no.2. An intentional walk to Nate McLouth brought Kevin Frandsen to the plate. Frandsen, oddly?, bunted his way on to load'em up for Jose Lobaton, who took a two-strike two-seamer for a called strike three. Tied up in Houston.

Tyler Clippard took over in the bottom of the eighth, gave up a one-out walk, but struck out the next two batters he faced to complete a 19-pitch inning.

Denard Span walked to start the ninth and stole second on Astros' right-hander Josh Fields and catcher Jason Castro. Anthony Rendon's groundout to second moved Span up a base. Jayson Werth stepped in with the go-ahead run on third and worked a walk to bring Adam LaRoche up and LaRoche lined a 94 mph 2-1 fastball to right for an RBI single and a 4-3 lead.

Pitch it, Soriano! Pitch it, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Strike'em out, Soriano! Rafael Soriano came on looking for save no. 5 of 2014. After retiring the first two batters he made those who stayed up sweat it out with back-to-back two-out walks, but he got the final out from Jose Altuve. Ballgame.

Work's done. Untuck that jersey, son!!

Nationals now 15-12

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