- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

WASHINGTON | Ivan Rodriguez hit a tying homer off the left-field pole to spark a seven-run rally with two outs in the eighth inning Tuesday night, and Washington beat the Houston Astros 8-4, earning a standing ovation from another sparse crowd at Nationals Park.

Washington trailed 3-0 in the first inning, then 3-1 in the eighth. But Adam Dunn walked and, two outs later, Rodriguez hit his fourth homer, a two-run shot off Felipe Paulino (1-9). After the next two batters reached, pinch-hitter Adam Kennedy hit a go-ahead RBI single.

The Nationals wound up sending 12 batters to the plate. One run scored on a wild pitch by Paulino, and others came home on singles by Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond.

Tyler Clippard (10-6) pitched a scoreless eighth.

Paulino was charged with five runs, three hits and two walks. He was replaced by Matt Lindstrom, who faced three batters and gave up a single to each. Henry Villar, Houston’s fourth pitcher in the eighth, finally ended the inning by getting Michael Morse to ground out.

The scattered fans rose to cheer the Nationals after that third out. Tuesday’s announced paid attendance of 11,893 was a slight improvement on Monday’s crowd of 10,999, the smallest in Washington since baseball returned to the city in 2005.

“Sooner or later, we’re going to be past the honeymoon period here,” Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said before Tuesday’s game. “These fans have been tremendous, and we’re going to have to start winning some ballgames.”

Well, his team came through in this one, ending a four-game losing streak.

The evening did not begin well for Washington, though.

Houston went ahead 3-0 in the first inning on Jeff Keppinger’s RBI single and Jason Michaels’ two-run homer off John Lannan.

That lead stood up for quite a while, thanks to Houston starter J.A. Happ, who took a no-hitter into the fifth and finished with six shutout innings.

But Houston’s bullpen ran into trouble.

Mark Melancon, the righty who replaced Happ to begin the seventh, allowed a run on consecutive doubles by Roger Bernadina and Justin Maxwell. At least Melancon avoided further problems by striking out pinch-hitter Willie Harris, getting Danny Espinosa to fly out to shallow center, and striking out Desmond.

Then came the eighth, though, which Tim Byrdak opened by walking Dunn, the only hitter he faced. Next to take the mound was Paulino, and while he got Zimmerman to fly out, then struck out Morse, it didn’t go smoothly after that for the Astros.

Notes: Astros RF Hunter Pence left the game in the middle of the first inning with discomfort in his right hip flexor. Pence grounded out to third base in the top of the first, then didn’t come out to play the field in the bottom of the inning, replaced by Brian Bogusevic. Pence entered Tuesday hitting .281 with a team-high 24 homers and 85 RBIs this season. … Astros 3B Chris Johnson hit his 11th homer, a solo shot off Drew Storen with one out in the ninth. … The Nationals signed a two-year player development contract with Auburn (N.Y.) of the short-season Class A New York-Penn League. … Houston OF Michael Bourn sat out a second consecutive game after straining a right side muscle Sunday. … With a strikeout of Keppinger in the eighth, Clippard became the first Nationals reliever with at least 100 Ks in a season. The team said it’s also the first time any reliever for a Washington-based major league team reached that many strikeouts in one year.