Left-hander hits home run, goes nine innings for the first time in his career

HOUSTON -- Nationals manager Davey Johnson admits he's a hugger and that he heaped embraces on Gio Gonzalez after his big game Wednesday night.

For the break he gave Washington's overused bullpen, Johnson thinks his relievers should be lining up to hug him, too.

Gonzalez pitched a nine-inning complete game and hit a home run -- both career firsts -- to lead the Nationals to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros.

Johnson was hoping Gonzalez (14-6) could go deep into this game after his bullpen had been taxed with games of 11 and 12 innings to start this series.

He got just what he wanted from Gonzalez, whose other complete game was an eight-inning outing when he was with Oakland in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox on Aug. 1, 2010.

"Gio couldn't have been any better," Johnson said. "He pitched an outstanding ball game. ... It was just a great outing by him to save the bullpen."

Things got dicey in the ninth when he allowed three hits and a run and had the tying run on third before striking out Matt Downs to end the game.

He allowed nine hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.

Gonzalez broke a 1-1 tie with his two-run, first-pitch homer into the Crawford Boxes in left field in the second inning.

"I couldn't enjoy it too much," Gonzalez said of the home run. "It was one of those things where you hit it and you're like, 'Oh that felt good,' and then move forward after that."

Gonzalez couldn't suppress his grin after the game and talked about the 52 text messages he had waiting for him. He had already placed his home run ball proudly in the top of his locker.

"It means a lot. The first time in my career going nine innings [and] also getting the home run," he said. "Today is one of those things where you can just can smile about it, but tomorrow is a new day,"

Houston cut the lead to 3-2 in the fourth inning, but Washington added an insurance run on an error in the seventh.

Astros starter Armando Galarraga (0-2) yielded six hits and three runs with six walks in five-plus innings to remain winless in three starts this season since being promoted from Triple-A Oklahoma City.

"I need to make an adjustment," he said. "I need to make a big adjustment. I threw the ball bad. I need to be honest with myself. Six walks after seven walks. There's not an excuse for that. I have to make an adjustment and work on my mechanics."

Brandon Barnes got his first career hit on a single with one out in the ninth. Barnes scored from second on a single by Ben Francisco with two outs to get Houston within 4-3.

Jose Altuve singled after that before Gonzalez got Downs to wrap up his big night.

Galarraga got off to a tough start, walking the first two batters he faced. Ryan Zimmerman followed with a single, but Steve Lombardozzi couldn't beat the throw and was out at home.

Washington took a 1-0 lead when Bryce Harper scored on a balk. The play first looked to be a sacrifice fly by Adam LaRoche, but replays showed that home plate umpire Angel Hernandez called the balk before Galarraga threw the pitch that LaRoche hit.

Altuve hit a leadoff double for Houston and scored on a single by Justin Maxwell to tie it at 1-1.

With Washington up 3-2 after Gonzalez's homer, J.D. Martinez singled with one out in the fourth, took second on a balk and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Carlos Corporan to get Houston within 3-2.

The Nationals were 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.

A big opportunity came in the sixth when Jayson Werth walked to start the inning before Danny Espinosa singled. Kurt Suzuki drew a walk to load the bases and chase Galarraga, who was replaced by Xavier Cedeno. Gonzalez grounded into a forceout. Cedeno then retired Lombardozzi and struck out Harper.

Harper was unhappy with a couple of the calls during the at-bat. First he headed toward first base on a 3-1 count that was called a strike and later yelled "No way" when he struck out looking.

Harper is 0-for-11 in this series, and Johnson plans to give him a day off Thursday.

"He's pressing a little bit," Johnson said. "I'll give him the day off ... and let him regroup a little bit. He didn't have good [at-bats], so I'll let him step back a little bit."

Zimmerman doubled in the seventh and advanced to third on a wild pitch. He scored and Werth reached on an error by third baseman Downs when he bounced the throw to first base.