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Ward's homer not enough as Nats fall

Ward's homer not enough as Nationals fall

HOUSTON -- The panic button is packed away securely. No one even knows where it is.

In other words, after losing, 5-4, in 12 innings to the Astros, it's too early to worry about the Nationals' 2-5 start as they head home for a quick series with the Mets.

"It's early yet," said manager Frank Robinson, who sat out the game as part of a one-game suspension handed down by Major League Baseball. "We've just played seven games. There are some good clubs that have got off to bad starts and some so-so clubs that have got off to good starts.

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"It wasn't a good road trip. But it wasn't a bad one either."

It might have just seemed bad after dropping three of four to the Astros. That includes Monday afternoon's game, which was lost when Eric Bruntlett's bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center drove in Craig Biggio from third in the bottom of the 12th inning.

Mike Stanton (0-1) took the loss on Monday and had no excuses after loading the bases before Bruntlett's game-winner.

"Obviously, this is a game we needed to win," Stanton said. "But I just didn't make quality pitches when I had to."

Neither did Chad Cordero, the Major League leader in saves last season with 47. He blew a save in the 10th inning when he gave up a home run to Morgan Ensberg to tie the game again at 4. Cordero has given up a home run in his last two appearances -- he allowed only nine all last season -- and has yet to record a save.

"It was a fastball and I just left it up," Cordero said. "You have to tip your hat to the guy.

"I've just made two mistakes these last two games. It's not a matter of me being in shape."

Robinson isn't so sure. Cordero spent much time playing in the World Baseball Classic and arrived late.

"He's not there yet," Robinson said. "Believe me, he's throwing 85-86 miles per hour and his location's not there.

"That's a key to his success, his location. He usually throws 89-90 and when you're throwing slower and you aren't locating well, you're in trouble."

No one expects Cordero to stay down long.

"He'll be all right," said Jose Vidro, who went 3-for-5 Monday to pump his eye-popping early average up to .406. "This team goes as far as he goes. It's early and we still have a lot of confidence in him."

What they don't have is an affinity for the early schedule. The Nationals get only three days at home this week before setting out on another six-game road trip, making it 13 of their first 15 games away.

"We want to get home badly and stay a while," Vidro said. "It's tough living out of a suitcase. It feels like we're still in Spring Training."

It felt a little like home on Monday for Daryle Ward, who briefly put the Nationals ahead in the top of the 10th with his first home run of the year. Ward, once the first baseman of the future for the Astros, was signed as a Minor League free agent in the offseason and had his contract purchased from Triple-A New Orleans on March 28.

Of Ward's 77 career homers, 29 have come at Minute Maid Park.

"It was nice to hit one here," he said. "But it's not like it was my first one here. I didn't think this one was going out. I thought [Jason] Lane had a shot at catching it, but it creeped out.

"I just wish it had been good for more runs. We needed more than just one run then."

Houston got out in front early with home runs in the first and second innings by Lance Berkman and former Nationals player Preston Wilson, respectively. The homers were the fourth for both players.

Vidro continued his torrid hitting with an RBI single in the third, scoring Brian Schneider. But the Astros answered in the fourth with a sacrifice fly by Eric Munson that made it 3-1.

Wilson surprised many of his old teammates by making some sterling defensive plays. He leaped high and crashed into the scoreboard in left field to rob Nick Johnson of a potential extra-base hit in the fourth. In the ninth, he again kept Johnson off base by making a running, diving play to his right.

In the end, it was a close game that was frustrating for the Nationals, especially when you're on the road and not experiencing success.

"It's always nice to go back home and get that homecooking," said Brandon Watson, who caught the sac fly that ended the game and just missed getting Biggio at the plate. "We have battled in these games and that's all you can ask.

"Baseball's a long season and right now you just have to try and stay close to .500."

Jim Carley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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