WASHINGTON (AP) – Tony Armas allowed one hit in seven innings, and the slumping Washington Nationals capitalized on Willy Taveras’ misplay of Carlos Baerga’s bases-loaded flyball to center in the first inning to beat the Houston Astros 4-2 Saturday night.

Taveras came in on the ball, then retreated as it sailed over his head. The three-run double gave the Nationals all the runs they needed to break a three-game skid and win for just the fifth time in 17 games.

Armas (5-4) allowed just a two-run homer by Lance Berkman in the sixth to help end the Astros’ six-game winning streak.

Armas had to leave his last start in the third inning because he was dizzy and dehydrated, but returned on another sticky night at RFK Stadium to shut down the Astros until he was pulled when left-handed pinch-hitter Orlando Palmeiro was announced to lead off the eighth. Armas struck out five and walked three to improve to 4-0 at home this season.

Joey Eischen came on to give up a single to Palmeiro, but Gary Majewski finished the inning, and Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 34th save, ensuring Washington will spend another day no worse than tied for first with Atlanta in the NL East.

The Nationals scored four runs in the first – the best first inning of the year for the team that ranks last in the majors in runs scored.

Brandon Backe (8-7) walked Brad Wilkerson, then gave up Jose Guillen’s ground-rule double into the left-field corner. Preston Wilson walked on four pitches with two outs to load the bases and bring up Baerga, who entered the game with just 10 RBIs and was 0-for-4 with the bases loaded. For good measure, the Nationals as a whole entered the game batting just .211 with runners in scoring position in July.

Baerga lifted the ball to left center, Taveras went the wrong way, and the score was 3-0. Brian Schneider then singled home Baerga, who made a nice arm-first slide to avoid the tag. The runs ended a 21-inning scoreless streak by Houston’s starting pitchers, who had throttled the Nationals’ bats on Thursday and Friday.

Backe settled down and didn’t allow a runner past second before leaving after allowing Armas’ single to lead off the seventh.

But Armas was better, faltering only in the sixth. He walked Craig Biggio on a full count, then worked another full count to Berkman, who took the next pitch and pulled it over the fence in right-center for his ninth homer.

Astros manager Phil Garner had a tough night with the umpires. He argued three close calls and was tossed on the third one by first-base umpire Troy Fullwood, who had called Biggio out after a close play on a chopper to shortstop in the eighth inning.

Notes: Before Berkman’s homer, Armas had pitched 10 1-3 consecutive no-hit innings against the Astros. He threw five no-hit innings in a start last year in Montreal, but didn’t stay in the game because he was on a pitch count after missing two starts. … If not counting the games the Expos played in Puerto Rico, Armas hasn’t lost a home game since Aug. 30, 2002, against Atlanta. He is 9-0 over 18 starts in Montreal and Washington since then. … The Astros got just four hits, ending a six-game streak in which they got 10 or more. … 1B Nick Johnson (bruised heel) went 0-1 with a walk Saturday night in his first game in a rehab stint with Triple-A New Orleans. … It was Jamaica Night at RFK, with Jamaican Ambassador Gordon Shirley throwing out the first pitch. Obviously more familiar with cricket, the lefty diplomat looked more like a bowler than a pitcher as he bounced a one-hopper across the plate.

AP-ES-07-23-05 2202EDT

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