Jennings wins game in 14th with his bat
Lamb's slam sends it to extras; Jennings hits go-ahead single
ATLANTA -- Jason Jennings has struggled on the mound this year, but on Thursday, he helped win a game. The starting right-hander knocked a pinch-hit single to right field in the 14th inning, lifting the Houston Astros to a 12-11 win over the Atlanta Braves.
Jennings laced a single off Oscar Villarreal, scoring Jason Lane from second base. Jennings was hitting for Mark McLemore, who earned his first Major League win after holding the Braves scoreless in the 13th. Brian Moehler kept the lead intact in the 14th and also experienced a first -- his first save.
With Friday's starter, Roy Oswalt, already on his way to Florida, manager Phil Garner had few options to hit in that 14th inning situation. He turned to Jennings, a decent hitter in his own right, for a boost off the bench. It was unlikely that a pitcher would deliver in that situation, but then again, in a year where nothing has gone as planned for this Astros club, it was only apropos that a starting pitcher would provide the magic touch so late in the game.
"I had planned to use McLemore at least three innings, four probably," Garner said. "Good gracious, I get into the situation where I have to take my best shot. He's my best shot and he came through for us. That's good for him. I know he feels good about that."
In the last week, Jennings has had one start in which he didn't have his best stuff, a mediocre relief appearance and a heroic pinch-hit at-bat. Not a bad ending for someone who gave up 11 runs in less than an inning four days earlier.
"I haven't done a whole lot [to be] productive in the last week, with my outing back at home," Jennings said. "To come up tonight in an unexpected situation, to come through with a big hit, it felt a lot better than it would have if I had had a good outing the other day. It felt real good."
Jennings worked Villarreal to a 2-1 count and figured he was going to see a fastball after the Braves reliever threw him two sliders.
"I was in a good hitter's count, and I knew he was going to come with a fastball, because he didn't want to walk me and get back to the top of our lineup," Jennings said. "I was just sitting on fastball, and he put one over the plate. I put a pretty easy swing on it, for once this year.
"I feel like I can hit, contribute when I'm up there at the plate. I was finally able to show that."
The Astros could have won this game in the 12th, after they took an 11-9 lead behind a Lane sacrifice fly and an extra run scored on two Braves fielding miscues. But Brad Lidge served up a two-run homer to Matt Diaz, carrying the game further into the wee hours of the night.
"I just missed location on it," Lidge said of the 0-1 fastball he threw to Diaz. "It was supposed to be away, and I threw it right down the middle. [Diaz is] obviously a very hot hitter right now, and when you throw fastballs right down the middle to hot hitters, bad things happen.
"Fortunately, the rest of the bullpen picked me up today. I was real disappointed in myself for letting that happen. I could have been out of here earlier and made the night not quite so long for us."
Mike Lamb did not start this game but ended up as a key in the win. With the Astros down 9-5 in the eighth, Lamb launched a pinch-hit grand slam off Rafael Soriano, tying the game.
"That just prolonged the night," Lamb joked. "If I would have known we'd go 14, I'd have hit a five-run homer so we could have gotten out of here."
All joking aside, "Pinch-hitting in that situation is a dream come true," he said. "Bases loaded, nobody out. It's a lot easier than with two outs. Then I have to get a hit. In that situation, sac fly, base hit, whatever, there's a lot of ways to be successful in that situation."
Said Garner: "The big blow by Lamb was kind of the whole turning point that got us going."
Prior to that at-bat, it looked like the Astros were destined to be swept by the Braves. Houston built a healthy lead behind a five-run third, capped by Lane's three-run homer off Braves lefty Jo-Jo Reyes. Within two innings, however, the Braves tied it, and at the end of five, they had a two-run lead, thanks to solid production from the entire Braves order.
Mark Teixeira's two-run homer off Woody Williams in the fourth tied the game at five, and Willie Harris' two-run triple off Williams in the fifth gave the Braves the lead.
Lance Berkman knocked a two-run homer in the third frame, giving the Astros a 2-1 lead. Berkman has homered in four consecutive games, which tied his career-long streak.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.