HOUSTON -- So often, the kind of close games the Nationals will need to win to reach their lofty aspirations will be decided before the ninth inning by escaping the kind of jams Washington successful navigated during Tuesday's 4-3 victory against the Astros.
Right-hander Brandon Kintzler rolled up a key double play to quell a bases-loaded rally by Houston in the eighth inning. Just as right-hander Joe Blanton got a pair of big outs in the seventh to stop another Houston rally and preserve a one-run lead. And while left-hander Sean Doolittle shut the door with a scoreless ninth -- converting his 12th consecutive save chance since joining Washington -- the game was won by the performances from Kintzler and Blanton.
"Closer gets a lot of recognition," said catcher Matt Wieters, whose fourth-inning homer put the Nats on top for good. "But it's the guys that get him the ball each night."
The Astros began the eighth inning with a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt before an intentional walk loaded the bases for Max Stassi. Kintzler battled Stassi to a seven-pitch at-bat, which included Stassi fouling off four consecutive pitches, before the final pitch induced a grounder toward third base.
The double play developed slowly, with third baseman Anthony Rendon nearly caught in between hops before firing the ball to Daniel Murphy at second base. Murphy couldn't get a handle right away and double-clutched before getting Stassi at first base on a bang-bang play. It was exactly the kind of result the Nationals had in mind when they acquired Kintzler minutes before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"Took way too long for me," Kintzler said with a laugh. "I thought we had it right away, and then [first baseman Ryan] Zimmerman ran by and said he's out. I was running off the field, regardless. Umpire wanted me to wait, but I said I already mentally shut it down."
There was no challenge, and the inning was over.
And Washington also received an encouraging outing from Blanton. In a one-run game in the seventh, he gave up a single and walked a batter to face Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. But Blanton struck out Bregman and retired Altuve to end the threat.
Although Blanton has had a disappointing season after joining the Nats as a free agent during Spring Training, the club is starting to see positive signs. His velocity has improved this month, and he has allowed runs in only one of his seven August appearances.
"Joe's throwing better," manager Dusty Baker said. "That's why we're putting him in more [high] leverage situations because this is what we brought him here for. This is what he's used to."