Paulino still doesn't know why he chose to throw an 0-2 curveball after fooling Rodriguez with a hard slider and a 97-mph fastball to get within a strike of getting out of the inning with a 3-1 lead. Instead, Rodriguez lofted a hanging curve off the left-field foul pole, igniting a rally that snapped the Nationals' four-game skid.
"I take responsibility for that one," Paulino said. "I don't know what I'm thinking at that moment, but I make a really bad pitch in that situation. ... I know I have the pitches to beat this guy."
The loss meant the Astros, who had won six of eight and could have moved within three games of .500, wasted six scoreless innings by starter J.A. Happ. It negated Jason Michaels' first-inning two-run homer and a ninth-inning solo shot by Chris Johnson.
"You always want to be able to stop an inning," lamented Houston manager Brad Mills. "Whoever's out on the mound, you want to be able to stop the inning. ... Your relievers, you want to be able to stop the inning."
Instead, the Astros jump-started the Washington rally. Up, 3-1, Mills called on lefty Tim Byrdak to pitch to eighth-inning leadoff hitter Adam Dunn, who fanned against Byrdak with the bases loaded in the seventh inning of Monday's 8-2 Houston victory. This time, Byrdak couldn't get the job done, walking Dunn on four pitches, and Mills called for Paulino.
The right-hander got Ryan Zimmerman on a fly ball to right and struck out Michael Morse swinging before going 0-2 on Rodriguez. Then came the pitch that Paulino still wishes he hadn't thrown.
Said Rodriguez: "You have to work hard. Hitting is not easy. In that situation, when I get 0-2, all I had to do was stay back and try to see the ball."
"It was a bad pitch to Pudge. ... I make a big, big mistake throwing that curveball," Paulino said. "That was a bad pitch at a bad moment. You could see how on my first two pitches, he chased my pitches. The next one, I throw a really bad curveball in a really bad location. You pay for that."
Trouble was, the Astros kept paying, as Rodriguez's homer started a string of nine straight batters reaching base safely. Twelve Nationals batted, fashioning Washington's 25th come-from-behind victory of the season.
Paulino had allowed only three home runs in 88 2/3 innings coming into Tuesday's appearance, and looked like he couldn't get back on track after serving up the tying homer.
After Rodriguez's fourth homer of the year. Roger Bernadina singled and stole second, Justin Maxwell walked and pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy hit an RBI single down the right-field line for a 4-3 Washington lead. Paulino then uncorked a wild pitch to score Maxwell on ball four to Danny Espinosa to score another run, and Matt Lindstrom came in and yielded run-scoring singles by Ian Desmond, Dunn and Zimmerman.
"A couple of them were broken bats, but they were able to get the bats on them," Mills said of the hits against Lindstrom. "We weren't able to stop the inning and they were able to keep it going with some balls that leaked through and some balls that fell in."
Happ took a no-hitter into the fifth inning and wound up allowing three hits, walking three and striking out six. But the left-hander, who had won his previous three decisions, wasn't happy that he extended the sixth inning on a two-out double by Zimmerman and finished with 111 pitches thrown, and only 63 for strikes.
"In that sixth, I had Zimmerman 0-2 and I needed to find a way to put him away there," Happ said. "He's such a good hitter, and then from there, just a couple of long counts to a couple of guys. If I could have gotten him there in that sixth and got out of there, I could have gone into the seventh. But I feel like the pitch count got up there after that hit."
Houston provided Happ with a 3-0 lead before he'd even faced a batter. Five pitches into the game, the Astros were up 1-0 on Jason Bourgeois' leadoff single and stolen base and an RBI single by Jeff Keppinger. With two out in the first, Michaels ripped a 1-0 pitch from John Lannan into the left-field stands for his eighth homer of the year.
Astros right fielder Hunter Pence, who grounded out for the first out in the first inning, left without taking the field with discomfort in his right hip flexor. He was replaced by Brian Bogusevic. After the game, Pence said he would miss at least a couple of days, but Mills said Pence was day-to-day and would be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Happ didn't allow a hit through the first four innings, but Morse led off the fifth with a single to left-center and Rodriguez followed with a single to left to put runners at the corners. The Astros got a break when Bernadina hit a comebacker to the mound and Happ trapped Morse in a rundown off third base for the inning's first out. After Maxwell struck out, Happ walked Lannan to load the bases before Espinosa grounded into an inning-ending force at third.
While Happ lost his no-hitter, Lannan toughened. After walking Keppinger to put runners at first and second with two down in the second, Bourgeois was nabbed stealing third and Lannan set down the next 12 Astros in order before Johnson led off the seventh with a single to right. Lannan departed after allowing three runs on six hits over seven innings, walking one and fanning three.
"We hit some balls hard, but [Lannan] made some adjustments and really stopped us from doing anything else," Mills said.
Mark Melancon relieved Happ and was greeted with consecutive doubles by Bernadina and Maxwell as Washington cut the lead to 3-1.
Tyler Clippard (10-6) earned the win with a scoreless eighth. Johnson homered off Drew Storen with one down in the ninth.
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less