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Astros-Nats suspended by rain in 11th

Astros-Nats suspended in 11th

WASHINGTON -- The game between the Astros and Nationals was suspended after a 76-minute rain delay in the bottom of the 11th inning Tuesday, tied at 10. That's rather unusual in itself, but it was an apropos ending to a very weird afternoon at Nationals Park.

Ah, where to begin? Let's start with the end, as the rain that came on late in the afternoon will force the two teams to resume the contest from the point where it was stopped -- with Josh Willingham at the plate for the Nationals with a runner on first and one out in the 11th -- when they meet again at Minute Maid Park in Houston on July 9. The reason? This was the Astros' lone trip to Washington this season.

The Nationals will be the home team then for the completion of the suspended game, even though the game is in Houston. The 10-plus innings took three hours, 53 minutes to play, followed by the long rain delay, and then no winner.

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"For this year, it's par for the course," said Astros starting pitcher Roy Oswalt.

There were six lead changes. In addition, the teams combined for 20 runs on 24 hits and three errors. But those runs didn't all come in traditional ways.

Houston tied the game at 8 in the seventh when Nationals shortstop Cristian Guzman dropped a throw from second. The Astros took a 9-8 lead in the eighth when Darin Erstad scored on a wild pitch.

But that lead was gone moments later when Guzman hit a two-run homer -- his first of the season. Houston rallied to tie in the ninth when Hunter Pence doubled to lead off and scored on an Ivan Rodriguez sacrifice fly.

"They did everything they could to keep the game tied, and we did everything we could to let them tie it," said Astros reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who was on the mound when the game was stopped.

Houston was hurt again by bullpen problems. Oswalt had to come out after five-plus innings after getting a stinger and a bone bruise on his right index finger while batting in the fifth.

He turned over a 5-2 lead to the bullpen, which had thrown 18 2/3 innings in the past four games and wound up going 5 1/3 more. It had problems in Monday's 9-4 loss to Washington, giving up seven runs in three innings to waste an early four-run lead.

Same story, different day. The relief corps again was less than perfect. Chris Sampson, Tim Byrdak and Geoff Geary combined to let in the two runners Oswalt left on base and then gave up six more runs on six hits, walked six and hit a batter. Byrdak threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings but forced in a run by hitting a batter. Hawkins had just come on to start the 11th when the umpires halted play.

"They're behind in the count," said Rodriguez. "They get behind in the count and sometimes a pitcher tries to throw a strike. Well, that's not an easy thing to do. You try to make a good pitch and sometimes they just go out of the strike zone. We've been pounding the zone until we got here."

After Oswalt left in the sixth inning, Sampson ran into real control problems. He walked four in two-thirds of an inning, eventually allowing four runs on just one hit. Sampson walked three Nationals with the bases loaded. He had walked only three in his first 12 appearances this season.

Byrdak came on and got Guzman to hit a grounder to shortstop Miguel Tejada, which looked like it would end the inning. But the normally sure-handed Tejada misplayed it for an error, loading the bases once more. Byrdak then hit Nick Johnson to force home another run.

Bottom line for the bottom of the sixth -- Washington tallied six runs on two hits, with five of the runs scoring without the need of a hit.

"Very strange. One day, we throw strikes and we do great," said Houston manager Cecil Cooper. "The next day, we can't figure it out. Two days in a row, the same thing."

The offense had a chance to bail out the pitching. Tejada went 3-for-6 with three RBIs. Rodriguez, Pence, Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger each had two hits, as the Astros constantly manufactured scoring chances.

Houston went 5-for-17 with runners in scoring position but still left 10 on base. The Astros got three hits in the 11th but couldn't score as the rain began getting harder.

It was just one of those days.

Jeff Seidel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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