Pirates' streak ends in 5-4 loss to Nationals
Freddy Sanchez slides to first base as Washington Nationals' first baseman Nick Johnson make the play and out during the seventh inning of last night's game in Washington.
Adam LaRoche is congratulated by teammate Nate McLouth after he homered, scoring McLouth, during the seventh inning of last night's game against the Nationals in Washington.
Starting pitcher Ian Snell throws during the fourth inning of last night's baseball game against the Washington Nationals.
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WASHINGTON -- Well, the Nationals' beleaguered bullpen cannot lose them all.
Joel Hanrahan, one night after his wild pitch gave the Pirates the winning run in another one-run affair, extinguished instead of inflamed a ninth-inning fire last night. Julian Tavarez, yet another of four ex-Pirates in the Nationals' 1-15 bullpen, recorded a rare victory by escaping a two-on, one-out eighth in which the Pirates already had taken the lead with a three-run rally. And the potent Washington lineup scratched out two eighth-inning runs on four seeing-eye singles off Tom Gorzelanny for a 5-4 victory last night in front of 17,816 in Nationals Park.
• Game: Pirates vs. Chicago White Sox, 8:11 p.m., U.S. Cellular Field.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh, WPGB-FM (104.7)
• Pitching: LHP Zach Duke (5-3, 2.84) vs. RHP Gavin Floyd (2-4, 7.71).
• Key matchup: The Pirates overcoming nightmares from the June 17-19 series last year in which Chicago outscored them, 37-15, for an opponent's largest output in a three-game set since 1950. The White Sox had 44 hits, 10 home runs.
• Of note: The Pirates' designated hitters have batted .258 in 80 interleague games, with 12 home runs. Ryan Doumit has made the most DH appearances, 11, and batted .171.
And the Pirates, squandering a chance to pull within one victory of .500, didn't go away too upset.
"I would have loved to win," manager John Russell said after his team's five-game winning streak and seven-of-nine run came to a close as the Pirates packed their bags for six more games in Chicago on this trip. "Anytime you can win three of four on the road, it's a definite feather in your cap. We should be pretty pleased with what we've accomplished so far."
"No, it was great," added Adam LaRoche, who combined with his brother Andy to provide the Pirates' runs with two RBIs apiece, the same amount they conjured Tuesday. "No use hanging our heads. I think this is great. We need to have something going into Chicago, because that's never easy -- either of those ballparks."
US Cellular Field and historic Wrigley Field likely won't seem as inviting as was Nationals Park this week, especially when Washington relievers stood 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate.
The Pirates collected seven runs in their final at-bats in the three previous games and another run in their penultimate at-bat during this series. Yet last night, after chasing Craig Stammen in the seventh inning of his major league debut, they mustered nothing off Tavarez (1-3) and Hanrahan (fourth save in 14 games he has finished).
And this, remember, was a Washington club that entered the night with seven consecutive losses, 10 in its past 11 games and blown saves in 13 of 19 opportunities.
It was the bullpen's first victory since May 7 -- when another ex-Pirate, Ron Villone, notched their only other one -- and Hanrahan's first save since May 9. And that gave him a grand total of two saves in the past calendar month.
Six of his final eight pitches and 11 of his 19 in the ninth inning all topped 96 mph. He struck out pinch-hitters Ramon Vazquez looking and Delwyn Young swinging, the last on a 97-mph fastball.
"I know Joel backwards and forwards," Young, who stepped in 5 for 12 as a Pirates pinch-hitter, said of this former fellow Los Angeles Dodgers draftee and minor league teammate. "We were teammates for a while. Nothing he does surprises me.
"The part about being a pinch-hitter, you get one pitch early, and, hopefully, you don't miss the one pitch."
He felt home-plate umpire Chad Fairchild did miss it.
"Three-one was not a strike," as Fairchild called it, Young continued. "It was up. They make mistakes, just like we do. It happens time and time again."
The Nationals turned a leadoff walk into a two-run, one-hit second inning off Ian Snell. Josh Bard drove in two runs as the home side built a 3-0 lead as Stammen, freshly recalled from Class AAA Syracuse yet at 24 years, 2 months the oldest of the current Nationals starters, pitched a perfect game through four innings. He never even reached three balls to a Pirates batter until the start of that three-run seventh.
Adam LaRoche, who doubled and scored to break up the no-hit bid in the fifth, two innings later clubbed a two-run homer after a Nate McLouth walk to tie the score. Brandon Moss then had a ground-rule double and scored on a single by Andy LaRoche, his ninth RBI in the past six games. Voila, the Pirates took a 4-3 lead. And here came the woebegone Washington bullpen.
Tavarez replaced Stammen and promptly walked Jason Jaramillo, but got out Jack Wilson and pinch-hitter Eric Hinske. He retired the top of the order in a row in the eighth. Then came Hanrahan. And, for once this week, the Pirates didn't rally. The Nationals did, getting RBI singles from Ryan Zimmerman -- who stretched his streak to 39 games reaching base safely -- and Adam Dunn.
"That's a good lineup," Snell said. "You can't contain them for much long. From 1 to 9, they're pretty solid."
"I threw good pitches," added Gorzelanny (1-1). "They just got hits. That's how it works, how it happens. Too bad it had to happen there."
As Russell put it, "Just a little tough luck for him." And good luck for a recently cursed Nationals bullpen.
First Published May 22, 2009 12:00 am