Nats' bats break out in the eighth

Nats' bats break out in the eighth

WASHINGTON -- With the new Nationals ownership looking on, it was a night of unlikelihoods at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium on Wednesday. Washington used a Roy Oswalt balk and a four-run eighth inning against Astros closer Brad Lidge to defeat Houston, 5-1.

First, it was a call from home plate umpire Larry Young in the sixth inning with Houston ahead, 1-0. After Damian Jackson led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a Marlon Anderson groundout, Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt appeared to make a move towards home plate while in contact with the rubber, constituting a balk.

Young made no call on the play, and it was only after a visit from Robinson that he conferred with his fellow umpires and decided that it was indeed a balk, forcing Jackson home and tying the game at 1-1.

Robinson said he knew it was a balk immediately and was surprised that it wasn't called by one of the umpires right away.

"I was waiting for the umpires to call it," Robinson said. "But when they didn't, I thought, wait a minute, let me get out here. I went to Larry Young and said, 'Larry, I don't think he stepped off the rubber.' Larry said, 'I think so.' I said, 'No, I don't think he did.' He said, 'Well, let me check.'"

Young agreed with Robinson after the game that the call should have been made earlier, without a visit from Robinson.

"It should have been called by me initially," Young said. "We saw it on replay. It was an obvious balk. I didn't call it. I had a question in my mind whether he was on the rubber or not. But I deferred to my partners. They said he was definitely on the rubber, so therefore it was a balk."

Young claimed he would have handled the controversy differently if given another chance.

"I feel in retrospect that I should have avoided that situation altogether by calling it immediately, because it was so obvious when you saw it on replay," Young said.

Oswalt called the balk the key to the Nationals' win.

"I had complete control of the game and two strikes on Soriano," Oswalt said. "I felt like I could get him to fish something outside of the zone. He did after I balked. I should have won that game, 1-0. I felt I had good enough stuff, where I could have kept them off base for two more innings and win, 1-0."

Lost in all the excitement on the pivotal balk play was the effort of the Washington bench and starting pitcher Michael O'Connor.

Daryle Ward was big for the second night in a row for the Nationals in a pinch-hit role. A night after hitting a home run into the upper deck in right field, Ward singled home Ryan Zimmerman from third after the third baseman led off the eighth with a triple to right-center field.

"[Lidge] actually threw a good pitch," Ward said. "It was a slider. I know he wanted to keep the ball down and get me to ground into a double play. ... I actually pulled [the slider] a little too much. It was close, if [Lance] Berkman catches that ball it's a double play."

Ward wasn't the only bench player pressed into action, as the injury bug bit the Nationals again. Jose Guillen was replaced by Marlon Byrd in the third inning, after the right fielder was diagnosed with a cornea abrasion. During batting practice, Guillen was seen rubbing his left eye.

Guillen wasn't the only starter ailing, as Wiki Gonzalez was removed in favor of Matt LeCroy after the catcher was hit in the back of the head by a Preston Wilson backswing in the second inning. Gonzalez is listed as day-to-day with a mild concussion and a cervical strain.

For Robinson, the bench's play wasn't a bonus, but a necessity.

"[The bench] had to [come through]," Robinson said. "Ward got the big hit, but the bench came through tonight. Byrd was in the lineup, LeCroy went into the lineup, that was a big walk he drew, and Ward got another big hit for us. That's what we felt like he could do for us when we had him in Spring Training."

On the mound, O'Connor nearly matched Oswalt, yielding only a Morgan Ensberg solo home run in the second before exiting for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.

For Robinson, having O'Connor keep Washington close was the crux of the game.

"That's the whole key," Robinson said. "Anytime you're going against a pitcher like [Oswalt], you can't give up many runs. If you give up more than two, you've got to figure you've lost the ball game, because he's not going to give up a lot of runs."

Despite Washington doing most of what Robinson says they need to do to be successful, the skipper had one complaint about the team's performance in his post-game press conference.

"We don't have to wait so late, or be so dramatic," he said.

With the way things have gone for Washington so far this season, that seems unlikely.

Michael Walsh is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.