Late-inning rally keys Nats' comeback

Late-inning rally keys Nats' comeback

HOUSTON -- For most of the offseason and Spring Training, Jose Vidro and Alfonso Soriano were intertwined. After he was acquired from the Texas Rangers last December, Soriano made it clear that he didn't want to switch from second base to left field.

The problem was second base belonged to Vidro, who was suddenly put in an odd position. Vidro wanted the organization to settle the controversy right away, but it didn't end until the Nationals threatened to put Soriano on the disqualified list and not pay his $10 million salary.

On Saturday, Vidro and Soriano were intertwined for different reasons, as they combined to drive in nine runs and helped Washington out-slug the Astros, 12-8, in front of 39,324 fans at Minute Maid Park.

The Nationals came back from a five-run deficit to get their second win of the season. The last time they came back from such a deficit was back in 2003, as the Montreal Expos.

On Aug. 26 of that year, the Expos were down, 8-0, against the Philllies and won the game, 14-10, at Olympic Stadium.

The Nationals came back against Roy Oswalt, the only pitcher to win 20 games in each of the last two seasons. Even though, he had a 5-0 lead after one inning, Oswalt said he knew he was in for a battle.

"I was hoping to get through the seventh inning, but then I ran into a little trouble. By the second or third inning, I knew there would be a battle. I never got in a rhythm. It was one of those battling games," he said.

Astros manager Phil Garner took Oswalt out of the game in the top of the seventh inning for reliever Chad Qualls and that's when the floodgates opened.

With the bases loaded, one out and Houston leading, 6-3, Marlon Byrd doubled to left-center field to drive in Royce Clayton and Marlon Anderson to make it a 6-5 game. The runs were charged to Oswalt.

"It was huge, especially off Oswalt. We hung in there. They went up early, and we kept battling back," said Byrd.

With runners on second and third, the next hitter, Vidro, grounded out to second baseman Craig Biggio, but Jose Guillen scored on the play to tie the game at 6.

After Nick Johnson walked to put runners on first and third, Alfonso Soriano gave the Nationals an 8-6 lead by taking an 0-2 pitch and doubled to left-center field to drive in Byrd and Johnson. Soriano ended up with a home run and four RBIs in the game. The homer also came on a 0-2 pitch.

"From last year to this year, I'm working on hitting strikes and put the ball in play and it happened today," Soriano said.

Soriano then came home on a Ryan Zimmerman base hit.

Soriano would leave the game after the inning and be replaced by Damian Jackson for defensive purposes -- a move Vidro thought was wrong because a 9-6 lead is not huge in Minute Maid Park.

"I was really upset when they took him out. He has been doing a great job in the outfield. With a three-run lead in this ballpark, that's not a big lead," Vidro said. "Early in the season, we need him to be confident that he's going to be out there in crunch time, but I'm not the manager. I don't make that decision.

"Everybody knows he is going to hit, it's just a matter of him producing in the outfield. He has been great."

Soriano said he already feels like he is part of the Nationals, but he's still uncomfortable in the outfield.

"I'm trying to do my best [to make it work] in left field," Soriano said.

After Astros outfielder Jason Lane made it a 9-7 game by hitting his first home run of the season in the bottom of the seventh inning, Vidro responded by hitting a three-run homer off Fernando Nieve in the top of the eighth inning.

Vidro ended up with five RBIs in the game and gave every indication that he is back to being the run producer that he was in 2002, when he drove in 96 runs. Entering Sunday's action, Vidro has a .409 batting average and leads the team in RBIs with seven. The last two-plus seasons, Vidro hasn't been able to produce like he should because of a sore right knee.

"I feel good right now. It's only five games. I told you guys I was going into the season in the best shape in a really long time. I'm just glad that I'm helping my ballclub win ballgames," Vidro said. "We need this win -- big time. It was a total team effort. We were down against one of the best pitchers in the National League, if not in the big leagues."

Manager Frank Robinson said Vidro has only scratched the surface with his hitting.

"You haven't seen him yet. Wait until he starts filling the gaps with doubles and hitting home runs," Robinson said. "He looks very comfortable at the plate. He makes a big difference in this lineup."

The winning pitcher was right-hander Livan Hernandez, who had one bad inning that almost proved costly. Houston scored five runs in the first inning, highlighted by a two-run home run by Lance Berkman. The home run could have been avoided had Byrd caught Berkman's fly ball in right field, but Byrd overran it and the ball dropped in foul territory. Byrd was charged with an error on the play.

Hernandez would settle down and give up one run in the next five innings. Robinson never considered taking Hernandez out of the game in the first inning because his relievers were overworked. Hernandez ended up pitching six innings and gave up six runs -- four earned -- on 12 hits.

"I had to stay with [Hernandez] and trust him to be able to stay in the game, and he did it," said Robinson, who passed Bill Virdon for 53rd place on the all-time managerial win list. "He would be out of the first inning with a lot less damage. Byrd overran that ball out there. {Hernandez] got better as he went along."

Injury report: Guillen said his forearm is still sore after being hit by a Brandon Backe pitch on Friday night. But after hitting in the cage, Guillen told Robinson that he was available to pitch-hit on Saturday.

"I told Frank that I will be available to be a pinch-hitter probably around the end [of Saturday's game]," Guillen said.

Guillen entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning, went 2-for-2 and played a big part in the Nationals' six-run rally. Since coming to Washington, Guillen has been known to come back from an injury and deliver in the clutch.

His most famous game came against the Giants on May 7, 2005. A day after suffering a contusion on his left triceps, Guillen entered the game in the fourth inning and delivered a two-run single against Jason Schmidt. He ended up going 2-for-4 in an 11-8 victory.

"He is amazing. You just don't count him out. He wants to play and he came in [on Saturday], and he surprised the heck out of me. He walked into the office with a bat in his hands and I said, 'Where are you going?' He said to the batting cage. He said, 'I know you gave me the night off, but I'm ready to pinch-hit.'"

After being hit by pitches four times this season, Guillen plans to start wearing a protective shield, which he did on Saturday.

"I've had so many problems with my arm. I have to really protect that whole arm because I don't want anything to go wrong early in the season," Guillen said.

John Patterson had a bullpen session on Friday. His right forearm is pain-free and will be able to make his second start of the season against the Astros on Monday.

After his last start against the Mets on Wednesday, Patterson said he couldn't throw his slider because of the injury. He lasted four innings and gave up four runs. Patterson was able to throw the slider in the bullpen session.

No surprise: Following Saturday's 12-8 win, the Nationals optioned reliever Jason Bergmann to Triple-A New Orleans. The news came after he failed to retire a batter on Friday against the Astros. He gave up four runs in the game.

The Nationals activated Ryan Drese, who will start Sunday's game against Andy Pettitte.

Bill Ladson is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.