WP: Wandy Rodriguez (7-5)
LP: Livan Hernandez (13-5)
S: Brad Lidge (28)
WAS: 59-54 (3rd in NL East, 6.5 behind Atlanta, 0.5 behind Philadelphia, tied with Florida, 1 ahead of New York)
No, that's not a typo. The Nationals have fallen to third in the National League East with last night's loss to the Astros.
However, in the wild and wacky division, a team can go from last to second or from second to last in two days.
Minute Maid Park continued to turn everyone into home run hitters, including pitcher Livan Hernandez, who went 3-for-3 and was a triple shy of the cycle. He also had a pair of RBIs to show for his effort.
His hot night at the plate didn't translate to a hot night on the mound, though, as he gave up seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits and four walks in six innings. The unearned runs came because of his own fielding error that set up a Morgan Ensberg two-RBI ground rule double.
Hernandez gave up four runs in the first inning after the Astros loaded the bases. Mike Lamb hit a single that scored one run, then Orlando Palmeiro hit a base-clearing double to put the Astros up 4-1 (Jose Vidro homered in the top of the first to put the Nats on top, 1-0).
The Nationals cut it to 4-3 in the second inning after Hernandez' RBI double and an RBI groundout by Brandon Watson. They then tied it in the fourth on the Hernandez solo homer, but Craig Biggio hit an RBI double in the bottom half to put the Astros up for good.
The Astros added two more in the sixth inning to make it 7-4, and a ninth inning rally by the Nationals fell just short when Jose Guillen struck out after an RBI double by Nick Johnson and an RBI single by Brad Wilkerson. The Nats had a man on third when Guillen pinch-hit for Preston Wilson.
The Nats will look to get back to second place in the NL East and within a game of the Wild Card lead by taking the rubber game of this three game set tonight at 8:05 in Houston. Ryan Drese (3-5, 4.29 ERA, throws right) will face Andy Pettitte (9-8, 2.64 ERA, throws left).
That loss was rough, because the Nats got offense, had their ace pitching against a much weaker pitcher, and still couldn't get a win. Now, to get back within easy striking distance of the Astros, the Nats will need a mini-miracle tonight, because they will be sending the struggling Ryan Drese to face Andy Pettitte, who would be an ace on just about any other team.
Drese has lost his last four starts and has been bad in his last five, giving up 18 runs in 24.1 innings (a 6.72 ERA). Pettitte, on the other hand, has won six of his last seven decisions (over nine starts) and has posted an incredible 1.14 ERA in that span.
I hate to say it, but it's not looking good tonight. The Mets play the Padres this afternoon after beating them 9-1 last night, the Marlins go for a sweep of the scuffling Diamondbacks tonight, and Philadelphia goes for a sweep of the scuffling Dodgers in a late night game. It is entirely possible that, with a loss tonight, the Nats could find themselves in a tie for last place in the NL East after leading it for so long. And while they would still only be three games out of the Wild Card lead, being in last place can't be good for team and fan morale, especially with the team already struggling.