HOUSTON -- Roger Bernadina glided back toward the fence, trying to make a play on a ball that would decide the game one way or the other.
Washington held a one-run lead over Houston with two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 12th. If Bernadina catches Brett Wallace's line drive, the Nationals win. If he can't get there or he drops the ball, both runners could have scored and the Astros would have walked off.
He kept striding back to the corner between the bullpen fence and one of two big, green pylons. Reliever Craig Stammen stood right behind the fence, where the ball was headed, screaming, "You've got room! You've got room!"
Bernadina didn't have much room, but he jumped toward the corner, disappearing from the sight of everyone in the Nationals' dugout. He nabbed the ball, collapsed to the ground and held his glove high. He made the catch and saved the game, preserving Washington's 3-2 win over Houston at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday night -- the second straight four-hour, extra-inning game between these clubs.
"That game took forever. We want to get out of here," said Bernadina, who scored the winning run from first on a bunt the previous night. "Whatever it takes to get that out right there. That was big."
Said Wallace: "I thought that ball might split them, but he made a great play. He's a good center fielder. That's what they do."
"It was crazy," added Stammen. "I was trying to hide in that corner so I didn't have to watch, but I ended up getting the best view of it."
Stammen raised both fists, excitedly bouncing up and down. Nationals closer Tyler Clippard held his hands above his head, exhaled and bent over, hands on his knees. The rest of the Nationals came pouring out of the dugout, chomping their hands together for the "Shark."
"That was an unbelievable catch. It saved the game. If he doesn't catch it, we lose," said Danny Espinosa, who drove in all three of the Nationals' runs. "To go the distance that he did and leap, that's a tricky little corner right there against a flat wall. That was an unbelievable catch."
Tuesday's win, combined with Atlanta's loss to Philadelphia, increased Washington's lead in the National League East to four games. It once again gave the Nationals the best record in baseball at 67-43, and according to the Elias Sports Bureau, this is the first time the franchise has held that title at least 100 games into the season since the end of 1994's strike-shortened season.
And, of course, it added to their growing list of emotional, nerve-wracking victories.
"This is getting boring," quipped manager Davey Johnson. "It was sensational. I thought the ball at first was going to go out. ... He disappeared and came out holding the glove high. I said, 'Man, this is great. Let's get out of here.' Exciting ballgame."
For most of the night, however, it was a quiet ballgame. Left-hander Ross Detwiler put together another outstanding start, allowing two runs on a first-inning homer then only two more hits throughout the rest of his seven innings. He used the same game plan that was so effective Thursday against the Phillies, inducing 12 groundouts with his power sinker and fastball. It worked then, and it worked again Tuesday.
"That's it. I'm throwing a lot of sinkers. I'm throwing a lot of fastballs," Detwiler said. "They're trying to jump on it early, and they're trying to get a good pitch to hit. If I can make my pitch, that's what I want to do. I want to get out of there early, and I'll be able to go deeper in games."
The Nationals bullpen, already taxed from Monday's 11-inning marathon, worked five scoreless innings, courtesy of Michael Gonzalez, Ryan Mattheus, Tom Gorzelanny, Drew Storen and, finally, Clippard.
But Astros starter Jordan Lyles was just as effective, holding the Nationals to only Espinosa's two-run shot in the second inning. Lyles worked seven innings, and Houston's bullpen put up zero after zero until the 12th inning.
Michael Morse extended his hitting streak to 16 games by blasting a leadoff double to deep center field. Cesar Izturis, making his Nationals debut as a pinch-runner, moved to third on Bernadina's sacrifice bunt and scored when Espinosa bounced a single up the middle.
"I need to put the ball in play right here, a ground ball, whatever," Espinosa said. "Maybe hit a groundball and the guy will make an error, or Izturis will beat it, something. I'm just trying to put the ball in play at that point."
"Last I checked, he drove them all in," Johnson added of Espinosa. "He had a great day. Crushed the first one."
It was a rare display of power on a night the top two-thirds of the Nationals' order went quiet. Their top six hitters went a combined 1-for-26 -- the one hit was Morse's double -- with three walks and 11 strikeouts.
"I told those boys to get a lot of rest," Johnson said, "because they'll probably do this again tomorrow."