When Rod Barajas walked to the plate in the ninth inning Tuesday night, manager Clint Hurdle heard dissent from the fans.
"Seemed to be a lot of mixed opinion above our dugout when I let him go up and hit," Hurdle said.
Barajas entered the game with a .133 batting average, no home runs and no RBIs. He had not reached base in his previous three at-bats in the game.
"I thought what the heck, he's hit a few before," Hurdle said.
It worked. Barajas' walk-off two-run home run gave the Pirates a 5-4 win against the Washington Nationals at PNC Park.
Barajas hit the first pitch he saw from Henry Rodriguez into the seats near the left-field foul pole. The home run scored Alex Presley, who had hit a pinch-hit single.
- Game: Washington Nationals vs. Pirates, 7:05 p.m., PNC Park.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
- Probables: LHP Ross Detwiler (3-1, 1.59) vs. LHP Erik Bedard (2-4, 2.65).
- Key matchup: The Nationals vs. the whiff; they have struck out 12 times in 33 at-bats against Bedard in his career.
- Hidden stat: Bedard has struck out 20 batters in his past 10 innings.
"I wasn't 100 percent positive it was going to go out but I thought I had a pretty good chance," Barajas said.
Barajas heard the boos from the announced crowd of 10,323 when he popped out in the eighth.
"It's not what you want as a player," Barajas said. "If they're booing you, that means that you're struggling. I'd love to be doing better. I'm going to work, I'm going to try hard to improve."
Hurdle said Barajas worked in the batting cage Sunday and Tuesday to work out the kinks in his early season slump.
"It can't go on forever," Hurdle said.
As Barajas rounded third, he found the rest of the team standing with interlocked fingers forming the letter 'Z,' a trend that Neil Walker helped start in Atlanta. The sign references Zoltan, a character from the movie "Dude, Where's My Car?" and a sign now given after a hit.
"We just started doing it, we've been raking ever since," said starter A.J. Burnett, who got Barajas with a shaving-cream pie in the face after his winning homer. "That was my favorite part of the night, seeing 20 guys behind home plate doing that. It shows you what a group we have."
Burnett rebounded from his most recent outing, where he allowed 12 runs in 22/3 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals, to throw 93 pitches in eight innings and strike out 10. He said he found his curveball midway through the game and threw it for strikes early in the count.
"Seemed like everything Rod put down was a two," Burnett said. "I've been around Rod long enough, you don't shake him very often. It didn't have a hump in it. It looked like a heater out of my hand."
"He was throwing it so well, just spinning it so well," Hurdle said. "He'll go ahead and throw it three out of five pitches. He can throw it for a strike, he can throw it for a chase, he can back-door it."
Barajas' homer erased the damage from Joel Hanrahan's outing. Hanrahan entered with a 3-2 lead in the ninth, but gave up a two-run home run to Adam LaRoche that put the Nationals ahead, 4-3.
Tony Watson (2-0) relieved Hanrahan in the ninth and ended up with a five-pitch win.
Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones homered in the fourth to tie the score at 2-2.
Nate McLouth worked a pinch-hit walk in the eighth. With McLouth running, Jose Tabata hit a grounder up the middle. Shortstop Ian Desmond, moving toward the bag because McLouth was running, couldn't handle the ball, and McLouth advanced to third. Walker's sacrifice fly scored him to break a 2-2 tie.
The Nationals took the lead in the third when Wilson Ramos drove Burnett's belt-high fastball over the fence in right-center field. His second home run of the season put Washington ahead, 1-0.
In the fourth, Bryce Harper hit his sixth double in nine games since the Nationals called up the top prospect. LaRoche and Rick Ankiel singled and the Nationals held a 2-0 lead.
The Pirates would tie the score, take the lead, then lose it before Barajas rendered it all irrelevant.
"Pretty exciting, wasn't it?" Hurdle said.
"[Bench coach Jeff Banister] said I got a feeling. I said, yeah, I've got a feeling, too. You've got to have the feeling.
"You can't be looking for tangible evidence all the time to make things right."
Bill Brink: email@example.com and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published May 9, 2012 4:00 AM