WASHINGTON -- Standing at first base with two outs in the ninth inning and down to the final chance to score, outfielder J.D. Martinez told first-base coach Bobby Meacham he couldn't believe the Astros were about to lose like they did.
Had Martinez been able to corral a fourth-inning blooper off the bat of Adam LaRoche that dropped in front of him and behind shortstop Jed Lowrie, allowing the Nationals to score the only run of the game, perhaps things would have turned out much different.
Washington left-hander Gio Gonzalez, facing the Astros for the first time in his career, pitched seven scoreless innings to negate a terrific effort from Wandy Rodriguez as Houston was shut out for the first time this season, 1-0, on Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
"It's ridiculous after what Wandy did," a frustrated Martinez said. "It just [stinks], and I feel that responsibility. I let him down as a teammate, and I take responsibility for that. But next time, I hope I can pick him up."
Rodriguez was nearly as good as Gonzalez, allowing five hits, one run and no walks in seven innings to fall to 0-2 despite a 1.96 ERA in his first three starts. The Astros made four errors in each of his first two starts, and while they weren't changed with an error on Tuesday, the miscommunication between Martinez and Lowrie was costly.
Rodriguez got two quick outs to start the fourth before Jayson Werth sent a fly ball to center field that a sliding Justin Maxwell nearly caught. Werth wound up with a double. LaRoche followed with a popup to the left side that fell between Martinez and Lowrie, who backed off the play at the last instant with Martinez charging hard.
"It's a play that's got to be made," Lowrie said. "First time a play like that, a popup like that, has happened with J.D. and I in the outfield, and our communication wasn't good, and we talked about it, and it won't happen again."
Martinez initially took a step back before having to charge in toward the infield.
"I took a drop step and I didn't see it," he said. "I saw it come off the bat, and when I looked up I saw it again and I took off. I didn't really have a beat on it. I saw that Jed was going [in], and I thought he was going to keep going, but I guess he heard me coming."
The Astros had a chance in the ninth when Lowrie doubled and Martinez drew a four-pitch walk against Brad Lidge. But the former Astros closer came back to retire Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Travis Buck in order for the save, giving the Nationals a 9-3 record.
Houston was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, and is 2-for-29 with RISP during its three-game losing streak.
"We talked to a few guys about that today," Astros manager Brad Mills said. "I don't like the word relax, but just feel a little bit more confident with themselves knowing they've got the upper hand, not the pitcher, in those situations."
Rodriguez pitched ahead in the count and matched the quick tempo set by Gonzalez, which was the main reason the game was played in a tidy two hours, 12 minutes. Rodriguez has given up 17 hits, four earned runs and walked only three in 18 1/3 innings this year.
"That's the guy that we all know, and we all love to have him pitch like that," Mills said.
Gonzalez, acquired in an offseason trade with the A's, allowed two batters to reach in the first inning, on a leadoff single by Maxwell and a two-out walk to Martinez, before sending down 13 batters in a row and 19 of the final 21 batters he faced.
"He was great," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "I was going to hold him around 100 [pitches] this early in the season. If a guy pitches in that kind of ballgame, I don't give him an opportunity to lose it. He had a great changeup, good fastball, outstanding curve. He was tough on left-handers, and he made it look easy."
The Astros did have one of the best defensive plays you'll ever see when Lowrie made a diving stop up the middle on a ball off the bat of Ryan Zimmerman in the first inning and flipped to second baseman Jose Altuve, who made a one-handed catch and throw in one motion for a double play.
"I've been looking forward to making a play like that with him," Lowrie said. "He's been real impressive. It was exciting. It was one of the highlights of the night from a game we felt like we stuck in there. We played really good defense, a couple of bloops, they scored a run, and we had a chance in the ninth. Lidge just made some good pitches."