Game in a nutshell: Stuck in a three-game losing streak and in danger of getting swept by the Pirates, the Nationals needed their ace to deliver. And boy, did he. Stephen Strasburg struck out 13 batters over six innings, coming up one K shy of his career high (set in his big-league debut against Pittsburgh). A Nationals lineup, meanwhile, that had looked lost at the plate throughout this series came up big at last in the sixth when both Roger Bernadina and Adam LaRoche homered to deep left-center. Relievers Ryan Mattheus, Tyler Clippard and Henry Rodriguez then closed it out, preserving the victory and keeping the Nationals in first place for the 30th consecutive day.
Hitting highlight: Stymied all night by Kevin Correia and seemingly pressing to try to make something happen and snap out of their offensive funk, the Nationals finally broke through in the top of the sixth, thanks to a pair of titanic blasts. Bernadina started things off by crushing a pitch into the back bullpen in deep left-center, perhaps a 440-foot, opposite-field homer. After Ryan Zimmerman walked, LaRoche nearly duplicated Bernadina's feat, crushing a ball just shy of the same spot. With those two blasts, the Nationals took the lead and for the first time in days were able to breathe a little easier.
Pitching highlight: Uh, was there really any question about this one? In his most-dominant performance since the last time he faced the Pirates, Strasburg dazzled with nearly every pitch. He wasn't perfect, particularly during a two-run fourth inning that featured three hits and during a tense sixth inning that featured three straight walks. But when he needed to come up big, he did in a big way, striking out Pittsburgh batter after Pittsburgh batter. No pitch was more important than his 103rd and final one of the night: a 96 mph fastball to Garrett Jones with the bases loaded, preserving a one-run lead.
Key stat: Combining the latter portion of his major-league debut and the first portion of this game, Strasburg at one point had struck out 14 of 16 Pirates batters.
Up next: The Nationals head down the Ohio River a few hundred miles for the start of a weekend series in Cincinnati. Gio Gonzalez faces Mike Leake at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Great American Ball Park.
HOUSTON -- Matt Wieters hit a two-run homer, Howie Kendrick had a two-run triple and the Washington Nationals beat Houston for the ninth straight time, 4-3 Tuesday night in a matchup of division leaders.
Washington's winning streak over the Astros dates to 2012. The Nationals have won 13 of 14 against Houston since 2011.
Kendrick's triple tied it in the third before the Astros went back on top with an RBI single by Josh Reddick in the bottom half. Anthony Rendon doubled with two outs in the fourth before the homer by Wieters, which landed just to the right of straightaway center field, gave the NL East leaders a 4-3 lead.
Tanner Roark (10-8) allowed six hits and two earned runs in 5 2-3 innings and Sean Doolittle pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.
Charlie Morton (10-6) gave up four runs in six innings for the AL West-leading Astros.
The Astros threatened in the eighth against Brandon Kintzler when Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles and the Nationals intentionally walked Carlos Beltran with one out to load the bases. But Max Stassi grounded into a double play to leave Houston trailing.
George Springer led off the Houston first with a single, stole second and scored on a two-out single by Reddick.
Beltran doubled off the wall in left-center field in the second and scored on a single by Derek Fisher.
When Max Scherzer was a teenager, he didn't know that one day he'd actually become a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He had no guarantee he'd make it to the majors, much less play in five consecutive MLB All-Star games.
All he knew was that he had the option to go pro as a kid or go to college, and back then, the Nationals' ace needed a contingency plan in case baseball didn't work out. Fortunately for Scherzer, it did, but he doesn't regret going to college at the University of Missouri, telling Santana Moss on CSN's "Route 89" going to school was a no-brainer.
"It was actually a really easy decision," Scherzer told Moss. "When you get drafted out of high school, you're going to be going into the minor leagues, and that can take three to five or six years — multiple years — in the minor leagues, and you're forfeiting your right to further your education."
Scherzer was drafted in the 43rd round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2003, but he opted to play for Mizzou for three years, which turned out to be a great decision. The Arizona Diamondbacks then drafted him in 2006 in the first round as the 11th overall pick.
"A lot of times when you sign out of high school, you don't make it to the major leagues," Scherzer continued. "So I realize that your education — that's your safety net.
"You need to further your education in college, and if you do get drafted out of college, you're in a much better position to try to chase your dreams because if it doesn't work out, you still have one year left of school and that's much easier to obtain rather than try to go through four years when you're not coming out of high school."
MORE NATIONALS: Stephen Strasburg returns to the mound