WASHINGTON -- Tears of sadness streamed down both of Frank Robinson's cheeks, and his voice quivered, even in the aftermath of an 8-5 victory. The Washington Nationals manager had been cornered into a move rarely seen in baseball, the benching of a catcher in the middle of an inning.
The Houston Astros had stolen seven bases -- the most by any team in the majors in nearly four years -- against third-string catcher Matthew LeCroy. After three batters in the seventh inning, with the tying run on base and shortly after LeCroy had committed his second error by throwing a ball into center field, Robinson pulled him for emergency catcher Robert Fick.
"If my daddy was managing this team, I'm sure he would have done the same thing," LeCroy said.
Robinson took it a lot harder.
"I feel for him," Robinson said. "And I hope the fans understand. And I just appreciate him hanging in there as long as he did."
The Nationals captured their third straight victory and fifth win in six games. They are playing their best baseball of the season, but Robinson couldn't overcome the emotions he felt after putting a veteran through an embarrassing scene. LeCroy, who handles pitchers well but has a suspect arm, was starting because Brian Schneider and Wiki Gonzalez were hurt.
"It's not LeCroy's fault. We know his shortcoming," Robinson said. "They took advantage of them today. ... I wasn't trying to embarrass him in any way. It's just a move that at that time I felt like I had to do for the good of the ballclub. That would have been a very devastating loss for those guys, and I'm just happy they held together out there."
LeCroy, Gonzalez and Fick are the Nationals' backup-by-committee for Schneider, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list Friday after missing 14 games with a hamstring injury. Gonzalez was unavailable after getting a concussion Wednesday night when he was hit in the head by a backswing.
"It was a tough day," LeCroy said. "They were running all over the place. A couple of no-throws, and a couple of balls I shouldn't have thrown ended up going into the outfield, which you can't let that happen, especially when you're up four or five runs. Ain't nothing you can do, just try to keep coming back day-in and day-out."
LeCroy said he didn't blame Robinson for the mid-inning benching.
"I'm man enough to take it. I don't think he should get that emotional about it," LeCroy said. "Hey, he's doing his job, just like I would do if I was in his position."
Once the tears are dry, Robinson will be able to find plenty of pleasing thoughts about his team.
Jose Vidro hit a three-run homer and had four RBI. Tony Armas (5-2) won his fifth straight decision. Nick Johnson broke an 0-for-16 slump with an RBI single. Leadoff hitter Alfonso Soriano scored three runs. Rookie Ryan Zimmerman had three RBI and had another stellar game defensively. The Nationals have won back-to-back series and have their longest home winning streak of the season.
"This has been the best," Vidro said. "We've put everything together out there on the field, it's not just on paper. We're playing better."
And the Astros? They are happy to get out of town. Andy Pettitte (3-6), struggling for the second straight start, allowed three runs in the first inning, three in the second and one in the third before departing in his shortest outing since 2003. Houston outhit Washington 12-11 and got seven walks to go with the seven stolen bases -- but left 12 men on base.
The Astros are 1-3 to start their 10-game road trip and have lost nine of their last 11 away from Minute Maid Park.
"I just obviously put us in too big of a hole to mount a comeback," Pettitte said. "I feel great, I feel strong. It seems like it's extremely difficult right now to get anybody out."
The last time Houston had seven stolen bases was April 13, 1999, at San Francisco. Eight is the team record. The Florida Marlins were the last team in the majors to steal seven, on May 27, 2002, against the New York Mets.
Each team lost its right fielder early. Washington's Jose Guillen, who recently missed five games with a hamstring injury, had it tighten up again and left after two innings. Houston's Lance Berkman was gone after 2 1/2 innings with a hyperextended knee, but manager Phil Garner said the injury wasn't serious.
Armas allowed four runs and a season-high nine hits in 5 1/3 innings. He was replaced by Saul Rivera, got out of a second-and-third, one-out jam in his major league debut.
Jon Rauch, still bothered by a recent bout of food poisoning, then pitched the dicey seventh that included LeCroy's benching. Rauch allowed a run and had the bases loaded with none out, then retired the next three hitters.
Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his seventh save.
"That game went from a beautiful game to an ugly game to a nice victory," Vidro said. "It was quite a game."
- Preston Wilson went 4-for-5, stole two bases and scored two runs and had an RBI for Houston.
- Soriano got his majors-leading eighth outfield assist in the eighth inning, doubling up Ausmus 7-6-3 after catching -- but nearly misplaying -- a deep flyball.
- Burke started in place of Biggio and batted leadoff for the second time this season.
- Guillen's eye was OK after getting it scratched by a glove during batting practice Wednesday.