WASHINGTON -- In the end last night, Nate McLouth was up against it all right. The center-field wall was where pinch-hitter Josh Willingham's two-out, ninth-inning blast took McLouth.
"It went a bit farther than I thought, but I thought it was going to stay in the park," said the Pirates' Gold Glove center fielder, who snagged the ball at the wall's top and secured a 2-1 victory at Nationals Park.
The Pirates have won five games in a row -- their longest streak in a span of 163 games since a May 6-12, 2008 run of six consecutive victories -- and seven of the past nine games.
With a game still to play tonight here, the Pirates already have cinched the series.
That eight-game losing streak isn't forgotten, but it seems so far back in the rear-view mirror.
• Game: Pirates vs. Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m., Nationals Park.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7).
• Pitching: RHP Ian Snell (1-5, 4.93) vs. RHP Craig Stammen (major league debut).
• Key matchup: The Pirates vs. yet another fresh recall from the minors. Stammen, taking ineffective Daniel Cabrera's place, was 4-2 with a 1.80 ERA in seven starts for Class AAA Syracuse.
• Of note: When leading off the game, Nyjer Morgan is batting .406 -- 13 for 32 -- with three doubles, four walks and 10 runs.
On a night when manager John Russell planned to rest set-up man John Grabow (2-0) and closer Matt Capps (eighth save in 10 opportunities), the Pirates got 11 hits, left 13 on base and, after going 20 for 39 with runners in scoring position, stranded runners on second or third base on 11 of 12 such at-bats.
Most important, they got help from the incendiary device that is the Nationals' bullpen, losers of 14 of 15 decisions on a club that last night spiraled to its seventh loss in succession and 10th in its past 11 games.
Washington closer-in-waiting Joel Hanrahan (0-2), with a 6.87 ERA as part of a bullpen that ranks last in major league baseball history, gave the Pirates the victory with a wild pitch. He had loaded the bases on singles each to pinch-hitter Delwyn Young (5 for 12 in that role as a Pirate), Freddy Sanchez and McLouth.
With one out, he coaxed pinch-batter Brandon Moss into a grounder that nailed Young at home.
With two out and two strikes on apparently overmatched Adam LaRoche, Hanrahan ultimately tossed a wild pitch that permitted Sanchez to score the winning run.
"We'll take them any way we can get them right now," said Grabow, who got a double-play grounder from Austin Kearns and a Ronnie Belliard lineout to escape the eighth on eight pitches. "A week and a half ago, it wasn't like that. It's amazing how things change quickly.
"Oh, man, it's unbelievable," Grabow added of a May that started with losses in 9 of 10 games -- 12 of 13 going back into April.
"You can feel the electricity in the clubhouse. It's more confident. When you win, it changes the mood. When you come to the field expecting to win. ... keep it going forward and building off the momentum we got going right now."
Capps, who recorded his second save since a session with pitching coach Joe Kerrigan Saturday, like Grabow wasn't formally notified that this night was supposed to be a respite for the bullpen's biggest guns.
"I wanted to pitch [in the 10th-inning, 8-5 Pirates victory Tuesday night], but he's the boss," Capps said of Russell. "I'll take it."
In the bottom of the ninth gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Willie Harris, then got Wil Nieves to ground into a double play.
Willingham strode to the plate next as a pinch-batter.
"He's always hit the ball hard off me," Capps said. "But I'm going to attack him in that situation."
Which resulted in McLouth's catch at the center-field wall.
"Deepest part of the park," Russell said with a slight grin.
Starter Paul Maholm didn't go as deep into the game as Russell hoped beforehand, but his season-high 114 pitches and four hits to the Nationals allowed the Pirates to reach the seventh inning in a 1-1 tie -- the sixth time in nine starts Maholm has permitted two runs or less.
Jesse Chavez pitched the seventh, then Sean Burnett opened the eighth against Adam Dunn, who previously was 0 for 5 against him. Burnett, who had worked 42/3 innings in the four previous days, walked Dunn on a full count.
That set the stage for Grabow, Capps and the ninth-inning rally.
"Now it's time for us to grow up and win," Capps said, referring to the young arms so long discussed around the Pirates' organization.
"Find the consistency and win."
Correction/Clarification: (Published May 21, 2009) For part of the May 21, 2009 news cycle the headline accompanying this online article cited the wrong final score for the Pirates-Nationals game played May 20, 2009. The final score in the Pirates' victory was 2-1.