WASHINGTON -- Each baseball season, one team celebrates a World Series championship. Others are thrilled to make the playoffs. And then there are the 2010 Washington Nationals, able to state with certainty as of Tuesday night that they will not lose 100 games.
Might not sound like much of an accomplishment, until you realize that this franchise lost 103 games in 2009, and 102 in 2008.
The Nationals can't lose more than 99 this year, because they earned win No. 63 by beating the Houston Astros 8-4 Tuesday. Ivan Rodriguez's tying homer off the screen attached to the left-field pole sparked a seven-run rally with two outs in the eighth inning, drawing a standing ovation from another sparse crowd at Nationals Park.
"Certainly we want to raise the bar higher than that. But it's a step, I guess. Winning a little more than last year is a step," said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman, whose club is 63-88 with 11 games left. "We'd like to finish up strong enough that there's a big enough difference that we can say we made a little progress. We feel like we're making progress, but ultimately, you are what your record says you are. So we'd like to win some more games, you know? We certainly aren't happy about the number of losses."
Washington had lost four in a row, and appeared set to make that streak five. They trailed 3-0 in the first inning, were no-hit until the fifth by J.A. Happ, then were down 3-1 in the eighth.
"Unfortunately for him, he just left me a hanging curveball right over the plate," said Rodriguez, who caught Paulino when they were Astros teammates. "I made a good swing at it."
"I made a really bad pitch in that situation," he said. "Tomorrow's another day. You just keep doing what you're doing. I feel strong and confident in myself."
After the next two batters reached, pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy hit a go-ahead RBI single.
"I guess when the season is over, nobody wants play on a 100-game loser," Kennedy said. "You don't want to be a part of that."
Paulino was charged with five runs, three hits and two walks. He was replaced by Matt Lindstrom, who faced three batters and gave up a single to each. Henry Villar, Houston's fourth pitcher in the eighth, finally ended the inning by getting Michael Morse to ground out.
The scattered fans rose to cheer the Nationals after that third out. Tuesday's announced paid attendance of 11,893 was a slight improvement on Monday's crowd of 10,999, the smallest in Washington since baseball returned to the city in 2005.
"Sooner or later, we're going to be past the honeymoon period here," Riggleman said before Tuesday's game. "These fans have been tremendous, and we're going to have to start winning some ballgames."
Well, his team came through in this one, even after a poor start.
But Houston's bullpen ran into trouble. Lannan, meanwhile, wound up retiring 12 consecutive batters, and Tyler Clippard (10-6) threw a scoreless eighth, setting up the comeback.
"We're in last place in the standings. We only have a couple more weeks left in the season. But at the same time, it's going to be good for this club to see what we're made of," Clippard said. "We've been going through some tough times lately. Everybody in this clubhouse is kind of looking around and seeing who's going to step up and who isn't. Today was a great sign."
Astros RF Hunter Pence hurt his right hip flexor running to first on a groundout in the first inning, then didn't come out to play the field in the bottom half. Pence said he hopes to be able to play after a couple of days of rest. ... Astros 3B Chris Johnson hit his 11th homer, a solo shot off Drew Storen with one out in the ninth. ... With a strikeout of Keppinger in the eighth, Clippard became the first Nationals reliever with at least 100 K's in a season. The team said it's also the first time any reliever for a Washington-based major league team reached that many strikeouts in one year. "It's a nice thing to have on your resume," Clippard said. "It's not something I kind of set out to do."