WASHINGTON -- First, the Pirates and Washington Nationals traded innings filled with defensive mistakes. Later they swapped blown saves.
A second consecutive walk-off loss charged to the Pirates bullpen, this one a 6-5 defeat in 11 innings at Nationals Park, gave the Pirates five losses in a row, all on this road trip. The Pirates trail the Milwaukee Brewers, who have won four in a row including a weekend sweep at Dodger Stadium, by 51/2 games in the National League Central Division.
"That's what's great about playing in the major leagues," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "You've got to embrace it when it's good, you embrace it when it's hard."
The Nationals' win coincided with Jayson Werth's return. He missed the previous six games while dealing with shoulder soreness, but went 1 for 1 with a walk, two runs scored and a double after entering the game in the ninth inning as a pinch-hitter.
In the 11th, Werth smoked a double off Brandon Cumpton (3-4). Denard Span's groundout moved Werth to third. Pinch-hitter Scott Hairston flied out to left-center field deep enough to score the winning run.
The Pirates held a 5-4 lead entering the bottom of the ninth, but Mark Melancon allowed the tying run that forced extra innings. Melancon walked Werth with one out. Span's single after an eight-pitch at-bat put Werth on third and Asdrubal Cabrera's hit through the right side scored the tying run.
"Again, a late walk," Hurdle said. "And then a big at-bat from Span, a battle at-bat. He's able to work a ball into the outfield. Cabrera, who's been a nice addition for their club, the ball's maybe elevated a little bit more. They found holes. Basically that's it."
Nationals closer Rafael Soriano began the ninth, which started with a 4-2 Nationals lead, by hitting Starling Marte. Travis Snider ripped a single off Adam LaRoche's glove, sending Marte to third. Michael Martinez pinch-ran for Snider.
Soriano threw a wild pitch, scoring Marte, before walking Ike Davis, for whom Jordy Mercer pinch-ran. Pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez reached on a fielder's choice. Nationals manager Matt Williams kept Soriano in to face Polanco, who was 0 for his past 19, rather than bring in a left-hander.
Polanco ripped the first pitch he saw to the wall in right-center field. Mercer scored. Sanchez followed, running through third-base coach Nick Leyva's stop sign, and the Pirates led, 5-4.
"I was ready from the first pitch," Polanco said. "He threw me a fastball right in the middle."
Starter Edinson Volquez set the stage for the Nationals' three-run seventh. With one out, Volquez hit Michael Taylor. It took a Nationals challenge and a one-minute, 25-second review, after home-plate umpire Andy Fletcher initially called it a foul ball, but Taylor got his base. Consecutive singles by pinch-hitter Kevin Frandsen and Span forced Volquez from the game.
Jared Hughes entered with the bases loaded to face Cabrera, who bounced the ball to Davis at first. Davis threw home to prevent the run, but his wide throw tipped off Russell Martin's glove, allowing two runs to score.
Anthony Rendon grounded to third, but Pedro Alvarez's short throw to the plate was high and wide. Span scored, increasing Washington's lead to 4-2.
"The goal for me is always to get ahead in the count and get the ball on the ground. That happened," Hughes said. "It was just an unfortunate situation where a couple runs came in, but we did come back."
Only one of the Nationals' four runs scored against Volquez was earned. He finished 61/3 innings, allowed six hits and struck out five. Six of the 11 runs scored were earned and the teams combined for four errors.
Doug Fister held the Pirates hitless through four innings, but his defense committed two errors, allowing the Pirates to send eight batters to the plate in a two-run rally in the sixth.
"Both guys pitched very well and both defenses kind of put some runs on the board on both sides," Hurdle said.
In addition to the widening deficit in NL Central, the Pirates are 11/2 games out of the second wild-card spot. The Atlanta Braves are on deck with a three-game series at PNC Park.
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published August 17, 2014 12:00 AM