Astros rally in ninth before defense falters in 11th

Astros rally in ninth before defense falters in 11th

Astros rally in ninth before defense falters in 11th
HOUSTON -- There's no shortage of pride in the Astros' clubhouse, despite their deepening struggles, which is why letting Monday's game against the Nationals slip away was more difficult to digest than maybe any other loss this season.

After getting off the mat to battle back and tie the Nationals in the ninth inning, the Astros had the winning run at third base and were eager to celebrate their first walk-off win of the season.

"We were one hit away from jumping on each other," Astros outfielder Justin Maxwell said.

The Nationals slammed the door on the Astros in the ninth inning before taking advantage of a pair of throwing errors on the same play in the 11th to push across the winning run for a 5-4 victory in the series opener at Minute Maid Park.

"There's games that you hate to let get away like that," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "That partly made this one a little bit tougher."

The loss dropped the Astros to 0-10 this year in extra-inning games, though first baseman Brett Wallace hasn't sensed the club feels snakebit in extra frames. Houston stranded nine runners on base and was 2-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

"We felt pretty good about making the run and getting back in it," he said. "We were one big hit away from ending it in the ninth. We didn't make enough plays towards the end, but you have to like the fight and have to keep doing it."

The Astros made three errors, all of which led to runs. Their misplays in the 11th inning, though, proved to be the most costly.

After pitching a scoreless 10th, Astros reliever Wilton Lopez allowed a leadoff single to Roger Bernadina in the 11th. Kurt Suzuki followed with a bunt shy of the mound, and the Astros made things easy for the Nationals from there.

Lopez and first baseman Steve Pearce collided while trying to field the bunt, and Pearce spun and threw wildly past first base to allow Bernadina to race to third. He ran through a stop sign and scored easily when right fielder Brian Bogusevic's throw sailed high over the catcher.

Mills said it was a case of players trying to do too much.

"That's going to happen, especially in a game like that," he said. "It's tough. Then when the ball does fall, you try to pick it up and try to make a play that might not be there. That's kind of where we're at. Same thing with Bogie. Bogie came up and he wanted to make a throw. The ball just got away from him and got too high."

Suzuki knows how fortunate he was the ball wasn't caught.

"Once they dropped it and crashed, I said, 'Oh baby,'" he said. "I had to start running to first. They threw it away and I just kept running. So was Bernie, too."

The Astros were trailing, 4-1, when they rallied for a pair of runs in the sixth on RBIs by Wallace and Pearce.

Nats reliever Tyler Clippard started the ninth with a 4-3 lead and hit Carlos Corporan with one out. Pitcher Lucas Harrell ran for him and went to second on Bogusevic's walk. Jose Altuve followed with a game-tying double to left field, but Clippard struck out Marwin Gonzalez and Wallace to force extra innings.

"We did a good job of getting back in the game, especially late right there, and we had an opportunity, and you have to keep grinding out and get that last big hit and take it in regulation," Wallace said.

Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, who had walked six batters in his previous start and 25 total in seven starts this year, was determined to throw more strikes. He wound up allowing just one walk in six innings, but the Nationals had 12 hits -- all singles -- and scored three times in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead.

"It's tough," Keuchel said. "I thought I pitched a lot better than what I've been showing since I was called back up, and it's definitely tough. They're ground balls, and that's all I can ask for. I came out of the bullpen and knew it was going to be a good night, and I wish one of those choppers would have been a little bit lower."

Ryan Zimmerman's bases-loaded chopper over the head of third baseman Scott Moore in the fifth scored a pair of runs, breaking a 1-1 tie. Keuchel allowed the first five batters of the inning to reach on a walk and four singles, including a hit by starting pitcher Edwin Jackson after Wallace dropped a popup in foul ground and was charged with an error.

"Those are plays that really come back to haunt you," Mills said.

The teams combined for 20 hits, but the only extra-base hits were by the Astros -- Gonzalez's long homer to right field in the first, Maxwell's triple in the sixth and Altuve's RBI double in the ninth.

"There were some [big hits], but right at the juncture when we really needed something, it just wasn't there," Mills said.

Brian McTaggart is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog, Tag's Lines. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.