Pittsburgh Pirates' lefty Jeff Locke and right-handed reliever Jared Hughes combined for seven scoreless innings on the mound on Saturday night in the nation's capital. The Pirates took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the eighth, but the Washington Nationals rallied once again, scoring three in the eighth and one in the ninth for yet another comeback win in a season full of them. It all started with a walk by Nats' outfielder Michael Taylor.
"He was patient," Nationals' manager Matt Williams said after the game, "fouled off a couple of fastballs that he was right on, but patient enough to get that walk for us and start it off."
Tony Watson walked just 12 batters (1.87 BB/9) in 57 ⅔ IP before tonight, but the Nats' 23-year-old rookie outfielder took the free pass and went first-to-third on a single by Denard Span, who sent a ground ball through the right side of the infield off the Pirates' lefty, who'd held left-handed hitters to a .167/.262/.207 line through 67 plate appearances before tonight.
Kevin Frandsen singled to right for his third hit of the night in the eighth, bringing Taylor in to make it 3-1, but a double play grounder off Anthony Rendon's bat left Watson one out away from escaping the jam.
Watson hadn't allowed a home run by a left-handed hitter this season until Adam LaRoche stepped in with a runner on third and two down and hit and 94 mph 1-0 fastball in the right field bullpen out for his 18th blast of the season.
LaRoche's home run tied it up at 3-3 after eight and a leadoff walk by Bryce Harper in the ninth, off Pirates' lefty Justin Wilson, was followed by a wild pitch that moved Harper to second and set Wilson Ramos up with a chance to win it. Ramos then hit a ground-rule double to right, over Gregory Polanco's head and into the bullpen to bring Harper home for the walk-off win.
Williams was asked when he started to believe that the Nationals might actually come back to win it?
"I don't know," he said. "You've got, I think, two of the premier lefties in our league, certainly, coming in to face our middle-of-the-lineup lefties, and generally that's a pretty good formula, but Adam put a nice swing on the ball and tied us up. And then Bryce worked a tough walk to lead off the [ninth] inning. And then, of course, we all saw, he advanced to second on the ball that got by and then Wilson does what he does. He hits the ball up the middle, the other way so well he was able to get it over Polanco."
Ramos' walk-off double sent the crowd of 41,880 in attendance in Nationals Park into a frenzy.
"The base hit off the end of the bat from [Frandsen] was big for us too," Williams said, giving his bench bat and back up infielder/outfielder some recognition. "Gave us our first one, so you don't expect to do that kind of damage against those two guys. They're pretty good."
A reporter wondered how much the wild pitch in the ninth, after Harper's walk, changed the approach for the Pirates in trying to retire Ramos?
"It's a question of what they want to do there," Williams explained. "Again, Clint [Hurdle] has got confidence in those guys, as he should, they're difficult. Righties, lefties, doesn't matter, they're equally effective against both. But we're not thinking about bunting Wilson there anyway because he can drive the ball in the gap. So, we were going to take a swing at it there. If both those guys get on we may do something different but the ball got by and he was able to get in scoring position."
The win was the Nationals' fifth straight, tying a season-high, and their eighth in the last ten.
Williams was asked about the momentum that's building for the current NL East division leaders after another big win, but he was once again unwilling to look past the next game.
"I view this team as tenacious and they don't give up," the first-year skipper told reporters, "and again, we must play well if we're going to win tomorrow. It's not for us to do anything but that, except give the ball to [Sunday's starter] Doug [Fister] tomorrow and hopefully we can beat these guys again and when it's over, good, bad or indifferent it's over and we'll look for the next day and that's as far as we'll go."
Tonight's comeback, Williams noted, was nothing new for the Nationals, who have continued to fight regardless of the score from the first game they played this season.
"It hasn't changed from day one," he said. "We had a lot of games early in the season when we came back and won from pretty big deficits. So they feel like they're always in the game. We've got some guys that can hit the ball over the fence. We've got good situational guys, guys that draw walks and if you have that type of team, then you can get back into a game. It hasn't changed since day one. They believe that they can come back. They believe that they can string hits together and we can score runs and that's a good thing to have, that belief system is good."