SAN DIEGO -- Given the San Diego Padres' peculiar proclivity for playing extra innings, it made perfect sense on Thursday that Jody Gerut contemplated the worst-case scenario.

"When you have a game like this ... tied in the eighth inning, you imagine, 'What if we're here another two hours,'" Gerut said, noting the Padres have already played 22, 18 and a scant 14 innings in games this season.

Luckily for the Padres, they didn't have to stay around long enough to find out, as Gerut hit a pinch-hit, three-run home run in the eighth inning for a 5-2 victory over the Nationals on a sun-splashed day at PETCO Park.

Not that the eighth inning of Thursday's game started out well for the Padres (21-34) as Washington left fielder Ryan Langerhans robbed Kevin Kouzmanoff of a home run with a leaping catch at the wall to start the inning.

"That," Gerut said, "broke our backs."

Not for long, though, as reliever Heath Bell -- who picked up the victory with by throwing a scoreless eighth inning -- led an impromptu cheer from the dugout with a succinct message for his teammates.

"I said, 'We had them on their heels,'" Bell said, "'let's push them over.'"

After Langerhans -- who tied the game with a pinch-hit, RBI single in the seventh inning -- made his big catch, the Padres kept the pressure on reliever Saul Rivera (3-3) as Khalil Greene and Michael Barrett followed with consecutive singles.

San Diego manager Bud Black went to his bench for Gerut, who got the day off against left-handed pitcher John Lannan, even though he knew the Nationals would counter with left-handed reliever Charlie Manning.

"I was OK with it," Black said of having Gerut hit against Manning, "he was prepared."

That's because hitting coach Wally Joyner essentially drove home the idea that Manning would come after Gerut with a slider at some point during the at-bat. Manning got ahead in the count, 2-1, and tried to sneak a slider by Gerut.

"I was hoping for something out over the plate," Gerut said. "The expectation wasn't to hit a home run. I was not at all looking to drive it."

That's what happened anyway as Gerut turned on the slider, sending it down the right-field line where, at least off the bat, it appeared the ball might sail foul. It didn't, and the Padres managed to win just their third series of the season.

Oddly enough, Gerut wasn't the only Padre to come up with an important hit out of the eighth spot in the lineup Thursday.

Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian's older brother, got his first Major League start in left field on Thursday. Gonzalez handled everything that was hit his way. His biggest contribution came in the fourth inning when his two-run single to right off Lannan gave the Padres a 2-1 advantage.

"Hitting is something that I have done for so long," said Gonzalez, a career .297 hitter in the Minor Leagues.

And while Gonzalez pegs more as an infielder, particularly at second base, he might well get more opportunities if for no other reason than he gives the Padres something they've lacked most of this season: offensive production.

Gonzalez it hitting .333 in 18 at-bats with three RBIs.

"It's good to get Gonzo a start ... Edgar has had some good at-bats since he's been here," Black said. "That's his history. It's good to have our bench players contribute."

Pitcher Wil Ledezma figures to get more looks as well, and not just because Jake Peavy and Chris Young are stuck on the disabled list.

The left-handed Ledezma tied his career high with seven strikeouts on Thursday and did so in five innings, departing with a 2-1 lead after 86 pitches. Black said that he wanted to have Ledezma "leave with a good taste in his mouth."

Bryan Corey followed Ledezma with a scoreless sixth inning before Cla Meredith came in and allowed the RBI single to Langerhans that tied the game. Bell tossed the scoreless eighth inning and Trevor Hoffman worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 11th save.