Pence hits tiebreaking solo shot as Astros end road skid

" Hero: Pence led off the fifth inning by hitting Tim Redding's 2-2 pitch over the wall in left for his 12th homer.

" Back in groove: Brad Lidge, newly reinstalled as Houston's closer, pitched the ninth inning for his first save since Sept. 28, 2006.

" Figure this: It was Roy Oswalt's first relief appearance since July 8, 2006, against the Cardinals.

" Quotable: "The adrenaline's still there. It feels good. I've gone back to what I've done in the
past. For me, it's a big accomplishment to get back into that mechanical groove." -- Lidge

-- ESPN.com news services

Astros 4, Nationals 2

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Brad Lidge was back in the closer's role, back
to pitching effectively under pressure, back to earning a save.

Now he just hopes to stay with the Houston Astros.

Lidge struck out two in the ninth inning for his first save
since 2006, Carlos Lee hit a two-run homer and rookie Hunter Pence
added a tiebreaking solo shot, helping Houston beat the
Washington Nationals 4-2 Tuesday night.

"The adrenaline's still there. It feels good," said Lidge, who
returned from the disabled list last week and had been 0-for-3 in
save chances this season. "I've gone back to what I've done in the
past. For me, it's a big accomplishment to get back into that
mechanical groove."

There was another rare sight out of Houston's bullpen as the
team ended a seven-game road losing slide: Staff ace Roy Oswalt
made his first relief appearance in more than a year, retiring the
only batter he faced in the seventh.

"Roy had requested an opportunity to throw," manager Phil
Garner said. "He had six days between starts in this span here. We
told him we'd get him in."

Oswalt threw three pitches after replacing Chris Sampson (7-6),
who went 6 2/3 innings for his first victory since June 8. Sampson
gave up solo homers to Ronnie Belliard in the first inning and
Ryan Zimmerman in the fourth.

Oswalt was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the eighth, so Dan Wheeler came on to pitch the bottom half. With Chad Qualls starting
a three-game suspension, Garner next turned to Lidge, a former
All-Star who once was one of baseball's dominant closers.

He led all relievers in strikeouts in 2004 and 2005, and
converted 69 of 75 save chances over those seasons. But the
right-hander never has been quite the same since giving up a
ninth-inning homer to St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols in Game 5 of
the 2005 NL championship series. Lidge's last save before Tuesday
came on Sept. 28, 2006.

During this outing, he repeatedly hit 97 mph and got cleanup
hitter Dmitri Young -- who leads the NL in batting at .341 -- to fly
out, struck out Ryan Church, walked Austin Kearns, then struck out
Felipe Lopez to end it.

"That's a pretty good slider, that's all I can say," Church
said. "It's a good pitch, and then he's got 97 in the tank. Going
in there, you know he's going to throw it to you. You have to hope
he's going to leave it up, because when it's down, it's nasty."

Said Sampson: "He's kind of struggled in the past, but he's
worked his way back. I feel like he's back. It's great to have him

Now the question becomes whether Houston, 13 games out of first
in the NL Central, might trade Lidge to a contender.

"This is where I want to stay," said Lidge, whose previous
save opportunity came against Oakland on June 12. "I'm happy
closing games for Houston. This is what I want to do for the rest
of my career if I can. ... At the same time, I understand we have
certain needs, and I understand how the game is."

This game was tied at 2-2 heading into the fifth thanks to Lee's
drive to left off Tim Redding (1-2) on a fastball that was up and
over the plate. It was Lee's 18th homer and second in two nights.

Pence then led off the fifth by hitting Redding's 2-2 curveball
over the wall in left for his 12th homer.

"I think he's got a little Vladimir Guerrero in him," Redding
said. "He's aggressive, he swings at a lot of pitches and he makes
contact on a lot of pitches. He's not hitting .340-plus by

Game notes
Sampson hit Nationals C Brian Schneider just above the
right elbow with a pitch in the seventh; Schneider left the game in
the ninth. He'll miss Wednesday's game but hopes to be back in the
lineup Thursday against Colorado. ... Redding matched his longest
major league outing since May 30, 2004, by lasting seven innings.
... There was an odd delay with one out in the top of the seventh,
when Nationals CF Nook Logan trotted in from the outfield to the
infield so he could swap his pants belt for a new one. ...
Zimmerman's solo shot was his 15th homer; Belliard's was his fifth.