HOUSTON -- There was no way for Ryan Ludwick to be certain of just how close Astros shortstop Angel Sanchez came to snaring his line drive with a leaping attempt on Friday, though Ludwick would probably just as soon not know.
"If he would have caught that ... I don't know," Ludwick said, shaking his head. "But even right out of the box, I was saying to myself, 'Please get over his head.'"
The ball in question, a two-run single in the seventh inning by the Padres left fielder, was the decisive blow for San Diego in its 4-2 victory over the Astros in front of a crowd of 23,755 at Minute Maid Park.
It was also a monumental weight lifted off the shoulders of not only Ludwick, who entered the game hitting .103, but also for the Padres (6-7), who have scuffled offensively in the early part of the season, especially with runners in scoring position.
"We got a good win today," Padres second baseman Orlando Hudson said.
Ludwick's big hit, combined with six strong innings from starting pitcher Aaron Harang (3-0) were enough to end the Padres' recent malaise, a rut that had seen the team lose six of its last eight games going into Friday contest.
Harang, who picked up victories in his first two starts at pitcher-friendly PETCO Park to start the season, allowed one run on three hits and struck out eight. He mixed his pitches, changed locations and looked quite comfortable in a ballpark better suited for hitting than pitching.
"He's a veteran and he knows what he's doing up there. He mixes four pitches together and he's tough to get the barrel to," Astros first baseman Brett Wallace said. "I think he kept us off balance pretty well and just kept us off the board for a while."
Harang, who has worked closely with pitching coach Darren Balsley since the beginning of Spring Training on mechanics, used a fastball that moved, a slider, curveball and even a changeup on occasion to keep the Astros (4-10) guessing.
"I felt really good, I hit my spots and I felt I could throw my slider in any count," Harang said. "It's been a matter of focusing and keeping the ball down. And [Balsley] has got me mechanically where I need to be.
"But the biggest thing is moving the ball around [the strike zone]."
The Padres had two hits to show for the first five innings against Astros starting pitcher J.A. Happ (1-2) before Chris Denorfia -- who got a start in right field -- began the fifth inning with a solo home run to left field.
"That ball was crushed," Padres manager Bud Black said. "That lightened up the dugout a little. We had some good at-bats from a couple of guys."
The Padres, who entered the game ranked last in the National League in batting average (.206), got a single from Nick Hundley and a double by Denorfia to start the seventh to bring Ludwick to the plate.
Ludwick entered the game with three RBIs, and got the last of three changeups from Happ, extending his arms and driving the ball toward the left-center-field gap. Sanchez made a futile leaping attempt as Hundley and Denorfia scored to make it 3-1.
"That was a bullet," Black said. "Someone catches that ball ... we're in trouble."
Ludwick said he's been working on staying more upright and preventing his head from tiling into a position where it made it difficult to track the ball.
"It's all the eyes, the eyes are more level," he said.
Pinch-hitter Eric Patterson, a left-hander facing the left-handed Happ, fell behind in the count with two quick strikes before taking a changeup to left field for the fourth run of the game.
The four runs were the second most the Padres have scored in their last eight games.
From there, Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams each worked a scoreless inning before the Padres handed the ball to closer Heath Bell, who got his third save, though he allowed a run in the ninth inning.
"We persevered and got the job done," Bell said. "We've been trying so hard to get over that hump. We've just got to keep plugging along now."