HOUSTON -- Thursday's series finale between the Nationals and Astros at Minute Maid Park was the type of game that brought a postseason feel, even in late August. It started with an All-Star pitching matchup, included a ninth-inning comeback and ended with the Nationals prevailing, 5-4, in 11 innings.Washington struck
HOUSTON -- Thursday's series finale between the Nationals and Astros at Minute Maid Park was the type of game that brought a postseason feel, even in late August. It started with an All-Star pitching matchup, included a ninth-inning comeback and ended with the Nationals prevailing, 5-4, in 11 innings.
Washington struck twice in the 11th on a sacrifice fly from Anthony Rendon (aka "Ant" for Players Weekend) -- which was set up by a wild pitch -- and a run-scoring single from Matt Wieters (aka "Wiety") to take two out of three from Houston in this potential World Series preview.
"When guys aren't feeling that great ... to be able to kind of grind through this as a unit and get a win, it's a good one," Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.
The Astros rallied from a three-run deficit in the final two innings, punctuated by a game-tying RBI double by Yuli Gurriel (aka "El Yuli") in the ninth inning against right-hander Brandon Kintzler, who was pitching the ninth after Nationals manager Dusty Baker deviated from his usual formula to call upon Sean Doolittle in the ninth. It was the Nationals' first blown save since July 3.
"We thought about it and I liked the matchup," Baker said. "Just didn't work. [The eighth] was the inning of decision as far as I was concerned."
J.D. Davis began the 11th with his first Major League home run as Houston threatened to come back again, but left-hander Sammy Solis retired the next three batters to seal the win. Solis (aka "Show-Show") became the ninth different Nationals pitcher to record a save this season, a new team record. It was also his first career save.
Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had outdueled Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Strasburg struck out seven in six scoreless innings over 90 pitches and perhaps would have lasted longer if he did not experience a leg cramp in the sixth inning that drew Baker, pitching coach Mike Maddux and team trainers out of the dugout. Strasburg said after the game that he is not concerned about the cramps moving forward.
"Anyone who's ever had cramps, you can't even move, and you can tell when he went to back up third that time, he couldn't go," Baker said. "And he was dealing. We didn't want to take him out, but you gotta do that before he hurts his arm a little bit trying to throw a little different trying to save his leg."
Keuchel turned in his third consecutive strong outing with seven innings of three-run ball (two earned). Houston also lost American League MVP Award candidate Jose Altuve, who left the game after the sixth inning with neck discomfort.
"That's a playoff lineup even without [Bryce] Harper," said Keuchel, who has posted a 1.31 ERA over his last three starts. "Hopefully, we'll see them in October. It was just an unfortunate turn of events in the fifth. I need to be a little better."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A HBP that wasn't: With Wilmer Difo on second base in the 11th, Zimmerman appeared to get hit on the hand by an errant pitch from Astros right-hander Tyler Clippard, but Houston challenged the call and got it overturned as a foul ball. Zimmerman eventually reached first base on a wild-pitch strikeout, allowing Difo to advance to third base. That set up a sacrifice fly from Rendon to drive in the go-ahead run and the RBI single from Wieters to provide some insurance.
"I don't know, I guess my hands are close to the bat," Zimmerman said. "Ended up working out better for us."
Back in the game: With a three-run lead in the 8th, Baker called on Doolittle (aka "Doooooooo") -- who had converted all 12 of his save opportunities with the Nationals -- with left-handers and switch-hitters due up for Houston and went to Kintzler for the righties due up in the ninth. Kintzler said he was ready, but his sinker was not effective and the move backfired.
"I'm fine with facing whoever," Kintzler said. "I understand the trend to match up with Doolittle and then me with lefties and righties. I'll face whoever really."
• Dusty willing to flip flop 'Doooooooo,' Kintzler
The Astros scored two runs in the ninth to send the game into extra innings. Alex Bregman, who had three hits, opened the inning with a single and scored from second on a Josh Reddick (aka "Red Dawg") single to get the Astros within a run before Gurriel tied the game.
ALTUVE LEAVES GAME EARLY
Altuve was taken out of the game with discomfort in his neck following his at-bat to end the sixth inning against Strasburg. The Astros' second baseman grimaced after swinging and grimaced again as he headed toward first base on a lineout to left field.
"I felt it in the swing," Altuve said. "Actually I felt it in my at-bat before. I realized I felt it again and it was getting worse. 'OK, there's something happening here.' We made the decision to get me out of the game." More >
Nationals: The Nationals return home to begin a four-game series with the Mets on Friday night at 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. Washington will promote right-hander A.J. Cole from Triple-A Syracuse to make his fifth start in the Majors this year.
Astros: On Friday at 9:07 p.m. CT at Angel Stadium, the Astros open a series with the Angels, who are in the thick of the AL Wild Card chase. Collin McHugh will get the start, coming off his first win of the season.
Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamalcollier.
Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Astros on Thursday.