The Washington Nationals were down to their last out, and last strike, before Daniel Murphy hit a game-tying solo blast into the second deck in right field for a pinch hit home run in the bottom of the ninth that sent the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates to extra innings.
It took eighteen innings to decide it. Starling Marte's eighteenth-inning solo home run off Oliver Perez finally lifted the Pirates to a sweep-avoiding 2-1 win.
Here's how it happened:
Though he'd suffered two losses, both to the Milwaukee Brewers, one in a rough outing and the other a hard-luck loss, Washington Nationals' right-hander Max Scherzer had put together a strong run over his last eight outings, with a 1.66 ERA and a .157/.210/.272 line against over his last 54 ⅓ innings pitched heading into this afternoon's series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
With a chance to win their sixth straight overall and sweep the three-game set with the visiting Pirates, the Nationals sent Scherzer to the mound in the nation's capital today, where he and rookie right-hander Chad Kuhl engaged in a pitchers' duel.
Scherzer threw five scoreless innings on 72 pitches, striking out seven and holding Pittsburgh's batters to just three hits.
Kuhl was up to 70 pitches total after five innings with just one hit allowed and 14-straight Washington batters retired after he set the Nationals down in order in a 10-pitch fifth.
Pirates' second baseman Adam Frazier was 2 for 2 with two doubles after he sent a two-base hit to left to start the top of the sixth, and he took third on a swinging bunt by Andrew McCutchen before scoring on an RBI line drive to left by Starling Marte that made it 1-0 Pirates after five and a half.
Chad Kuhl worked around a hit-by-pitch with help from a caught stealing for a scoreless sixth before he was lifted for a pinch hitter.
Chad Kuhl's Line: 6.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 Ks, 85 P, 54 S, 3/5 GO/FO.
Max Scherzer's Line: 7.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks, 103 P, 75 S, 6/6 GO/FO.
Neftali Feliz took over on the mound for the Pirates in the bottom of the seventh and gave up back-to-back, one-out singles by Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, but Wilson Ramos lined softly to second in the next at bat allowing Josh Harrison to make the catch and step on the bag for an inning-ending double play.
Blake Treinen worked a scoreless top of the eighth for the Nationals. Tony Watson tossed an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth for the Bucs and after Jonathan Papelbon's scoreless ninth, Pirates' closer Mark Melancon came on to close out the 1-0 win... and gave up a two-out, two-strike, game-tying home run by Daniel Murphy, who went a line drive into the second deck in his first at bat of the series. 1-1 after nine.
The blown save by Melancon snapped a streak of 23-straight opportunities converted and was just his second blown save in 29 opportunities this season.
It was still tied at 1-1 in the sixteenth after Pirates' pinch hitter Eric Fryer was thrown out at home trying to score from first on a Josh Harrison double to center.
Oliver Perez, in his second inning of work, gave up a leadoff walk to Adam Frazier in the top of the eighteenth, but got a double play out of Andrew McCutchen before giving up a two-out solo home run to left by Starling Marte. 2-1 Pirates.
That how it mercifully ended... nearly six hours after it started.
Nationals now 56-37
- Pittsburgh's Pirates entered this afternoon's series finale with losses in three straight games, their first three-game losing streak since June 21-23, but they'd still won 12 of their last 18.
- Last night's loss was the Pirates' ninth straight in the nation's capital going back to late July of 2013. It was just the second shutout loss of the season for Pittsburgh.
- Washington win last night was their fifth straight, and it left them 20 games over .500 on the year at 56-36, and since their seven-game losing ended on June 26th in Milwaukee, the Nationals are 13-4 overall.
- The Nationals' 56-36 record was the third-best in the majors heading into play today, behind only the Chicago Cubs (55-35) and San Francisco Giants (57-35).
- Pirates' right-hander Chad Kuhl, who was making his fourth major league start this afternoon, was facing a former Cy Young award-winner for the second time after he matched up with Clayton Kershaw in a start against the LA Dodgers.
- Before he was promoted to make his MLB debut, Kuhl, a 2013 Pirates' 9th Round pick, was 6-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 14 starts and 76 ⅔ IP at Triple-A Indianapolis.
- Pirates' center fielder Andrew McCutchen started the series finale 56 for 160 (.350 AVG) with seven doubles, two triples, 14 home runs and 32 runs batted in in 43 games against the Nationals in his career.
- Nationals' bench bat Stephen Drew connected for three doubles in last night's win, and 15 of his 25 hits this season are now extra base hits.
- This afternoon's start was Max Scherzer's 9th start and 10th career appearance against the Pirates, against whom he was 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA. Scherzer did, of course, toss a no-hitter against Pittsburgh last June.