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Astros move two games up on Nats in wild-card race

HOUSTON (AP) -- Pitching to Morgan Ensberg isn't any easier than
facing Lance Berkman.

Maybe now, teams will finally learn.

Ensberg hit a two-run double in the sixth inning after Livan
Hernandez intentionally walked Berkman to load the bases, giving
the Houston Astros the cushion they later needed to beat the
Washington Nationals 7-6 Wednesday night.

It was the third time since July 8 that Ensberg has made a team
pay for intentionally walking Berkman to get to him. The first was
a game-winning double against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the
second an RBI single against Pittsburgh on July 20.

"It's probably the right move," said Ensberg, who has
previously been upset when teams pitched around Berkman. "Lance
Berkman is a great left-handed hitter. They're just looking for an
out, and the book says go righty versus righty."

Brad Lidge got the save despite a shaky ninth, striking out
pinch-hitter Jose Guillen with runners at the corners to end it.
Houston moved two games ahead of Washington in the NL wild-card
race.

Craig Biggio also had a run-scoring double and four hits for the
Astros, who resumed their home dominance after dropping the series
opener Tuesday. The Astros are 37-16 at Minute Maid Park, where
they have not lost consecutive games since June 4 and will play
their next 11.

Jose Vidro and Hernandez homered for the Nationals, who are
struggling in one-run games. Once baseball's best team in close
games -- Washington had a stretch of 12 straight wins in one-run
games before the All-Star break -- the Nationals have dropped 13 of
their last 14 games decided by one run.

"These will come back to haunt you in the end," Nationals
manager Frank Robinson said. "We just can't keep making mistakes,
squandering opportunities, because it will cost us against the
better ballclubs."

Washington's first two batters reached in the ninth against
Lidge, but Vidro lined into a double play when Berkman -- who moved
from left field to first base in the ninth for defense -- made a
diving catch and Brandon Watson was caught off the bag.

After Nick Johnson's RBI double and Brad Wilkerson's run-scoring
single, Lidge fanned Guillen for his 28th save in 31 chances.

Wandy Rodriguez (7-5) lasted five innings and earned the win
despite struggling against Hernandez (13-5). The Nationals' starter
also had an RBI double and a single.

But Hernandez's hitting was not enough to make up for dreadful
innings in the first and sixth. Orlando Palmeiro cleared the bases
in the first with a three-run double deep down the right-field
line, capping a four-run inning.

Hernandez is 1-3 in his last seven starts. He allowed seven runs
-- five earned -- and 10 hits, the third consecutive start that he's
allowed 10 or more hits.

"Nobody is perfect all the time," said Hernandez, whose five
earned runs allowed were a season high. "I felt very good tonight
but I had lots of problems in the fist inning."

The Nationals have not strung together back-to-back wins on the
road since July 3. They are 3-9 away from Washington since the
All-Star break and are two games into an 11-game road swing, their
longest of the season.

Vidro's homer in the first was his seventh.

Game notes
Guillen's appearance in the ninth was his first since he
was taken out of the lineup Saturday because of a sore shoulder.
... Biggio snapped an 0-for-12 slump with his season-high four
hits. ... The Nationals had been 0-for-15 with runners in scoring
position before Hernandez's double to score Preston Wilson. ...
Hernandez entered 4-0 in four career starts at Minute Maid Park.
... Willy Taveras is 5-for-8 in the series. His 40 multihit games
are the most by an Astros rookie since Jeff Bagwell had 41 in 1991.