In the second inning Wednesday night, sprinting from first base and trying to steal second, Jayson Werth knew he would be out. His instincts pushed him to try to something he had attempted before, never successfully. He slid short of the base, spraying dirt as he stopped himself with the spikes on his left foot. He avoided a tag, hopped to the base, spread his arms and yelled, “Safe!”

“I gave them the old Whoop-Dee-Do,” Werth said.

Werth’s balletic, see-it-to-believe-it slide led directly to a run, and in the Washington Nationals’ 6-5 victory over the Houston Astros, each score was deeply meaningful. Werth’s base running would also key a pivotal, three-run rally in the seventh inning that led to the Nationals’ two-game sweep.

Gio Gonzalez returned from the disabled list and gave up four runs, all scoring in one implosive frame, over five innings. Nate McLouth’s sacrifice fly in the seventh sealed the Nationals’ comeback. But it started with Werth, who twice showed why he is regarded as one of the best base runners in baseball.

“There’s more than one way to win a game,” Werth said. “You can do it with your glove. You can do it with your bat. You can do it with your legs. I’m not nearly as fast as I used to be. I’m still as crafty. I didn’t get any hits tonight, but I feel like I did a lot to help my team win.”

The Braves’ loss Wednesday afternoon ensured the Nationals remained in first place as they welcome their rivals to Washington on Thursday for a pivotal four-game series. With their victory at night, the Nationals surged ahead by 11 / 2 games, their largest lead since April 10. Starting Thursday night, the Nationals have the chance to create meaningful separation between themselves and the reigning National League East champions.