Astros send nine to plate in fifth, trip up Nationals for rare win of late

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A night after getting shut out, the Houston Astros got their offense going.

Hunter Pence homered and drove in three runs to help the Astros beat the Washington Nationals 6-4 on Saturday night.

"Nothing was running for us yesterday, and today, it seemed to happen," Pence said. "It's baseball. The ball seemed to bounce in different ways. We had a lot of energy, we played hard and everyone chipped in."

Lance Berkman added two RBIs and Carlos Lee had three of the Astros' 13 hits. Houston has won just three of its last 11 games.

"Everything looks great when you score six runs and win the ballgame," Berkman added. "When you get shut out 10-0, it doesn't look the same. Certainly, winning covers a multitude of evils and makes you look good."

Left-hander Wandy Rodriguez (4-3), who had only one victory in his previous six starts, allowed four runs and eight hits over 5 1/3 innings to earn the win. He walked one and struck out one. Jose Valverde worked the ninth for his 24th save in 29 tries.

"Wandy ... limited the damage," Houston manager Cecil Cooper said. "He didn't give them any crooked numbers. He threw some double play balls. That's what you have to do to prevent teams from putting crooked numbers up on you."

Washington rookie Collin Balester (1-2) gave up six runs -- four earned -- and 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings.

"You learn from failure and I'm starting to learn a lot more. The next start's going to be a lot better," Balester said.

Willie Harris homered for Washington, which has lost nine of 12 games. The Nationals hit into four double plays, matching a season high.

Pence's 12th homer of the season erased a 2-1 deficit in the fourth. The Astros sent nine men to the plate in fifth, chasing Balester, and a throwing error by third baseman Ronnie Belliard opened the floodgates.

"We had our chances. We just played poor defense," Washington manager Manny Acta said. "I think with the offense we have we can't afford to be giving 30 outs to the opposition."

Leadoff hitter Darin Erstad reached on Belliard's wild throw and went to third on Kaz Matsui's double to right. Berkman made it 5-2 with a double to the bullpen wall in left-center. Lee singled and, two outs later, Pence capped the uprising with an RBI single to left.

Houston strung together three consecutive singles with one out in the first, taking a 1-0 lead on Lee's RBI hit to left.

A sacrifice fly by Cristian Guzman tied the game in the bottom of the inning and Belliard led off the second with a double, then scored on Jesus Flores' single to center.

Rodriguez tired in the sixth, when he could retire only one batter and left after loading the bases.

Harris' fifth homer, a leadoff shot to right-center off a 1-2 Rodriguez pitch, made it 6-3. Paul Lo Duca singled, Guzman drew a one out walk and Belliard singled before Chris Sampson relieved. Sampson plunked Flores on the left arm with his first pitch, forcing in a run, then got Wily Mo Pena to bounce into an inning-ending 1-2-3 double play.

"That was the at-bat that probably disinflated us. It took all the air out of us right there," Acta said. "[Pena] chased a pitch low and out of the zone in that situation and made their night, basically. ... Right now, he's just lost at the plate."

Game notes
Houston is 10-1 when Pence drives in two or more runs. ... Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman, on the 15-day disabled list with a turn muscle in his left shoulder, will begin a rehabilitation assignment with Single-A Potomac in Salem, Va., on Monday. If all goes well, Zimmerman will move on to Triple-A Columbus and play Thursday through Sunday. ... Balester got his first major league hit, a third-inning single. ... Houston signed its first-round draft pick, C Jason Castro from Stanford. He will begin his professional career at Single-A Tri-City. ... Nationals 1B Dmitri Young missed the game with back tightness.