After turning a two-run deficit into a two-run lead, the Washington Nationals (69-53) saw closer Rafael Soriano cede three runs in the ninth, but the Nats were able to tie the game and walked off in the 11th to claim another comeback win and a series sweep over the Pittsburgh Pirates (64-60), 6-5.
Despite the great result, the Nationals gained no divisional ground over their past three games, as the Atlanta Braves improbably swept the MLB-leading Oakland Athletics over a three-game series in Atlanta, despite having lost 12 of their previous 15 games.
It feels so long ago, but Doug Fister got off to a great start this afternoon. He was dealing through four innings, giving up no hits and just one walk, but the wheels came off in an extraordinarily odd sixth.
Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon committed errors on two of the first three batters of the inning, sending a run across and putting runners on the corners with no outs. It might seem tough for an inning to get worse after two errors, but this one did. Russell Martin sent a dribbler down the first base line, but Rendon’s barehand throw hit Martin, who reached safely and drove in another run. Pedro Alvarez singled to right for the first actual hit of the inning, loading the bases with no outs.
Abandoned by his defense, Fister had to escape this jam on his own. He got a comebacker and threw out a runner at home for the first out, got a grounder to Adam LaRoche for another out at home, and induced a flyout to impressively limit the damage to just two runs. After a scoreless seventh, he finished with a great line: 7 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K.
The poor throwing seemed to be contagious, as the Pirates would commit a pair of errors of their own. Desmond drove in Rendon in the bottom of the seventh to halve the deficit, but it would not be until the next half inning that the Pirates threw their lead away. A Michael Taylor hit-by-pitch and a pair of singles loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Asdrubal Cabrera grounded to first, but Ike Davis’s poor throw scored two runs to give the Nats the lead. Rendon hit a grounder to third next, and Alvarez’s misfire scored another run for a 4-2 advantage.
Now, if you thought that was enough drama, you’re in for a surprise. Here’s where things get really wild.
Leading 4-2 in the ninth, the Nationals called upon Soriano. He was utterly abysmal, plunking the first batter he faced, giving up a single to the second, and letting up a run on a wild pitch. A walk and a fielder’s choice out later, Gregory Polanco doubled to the gap and scored two runs, handing the Pirates an improbable 5-4 lead. Soriano, who now has a 5.56 ERA since the All-Star break, was booed heavily by the home fans. He gave up three runs on two hits and a walk while getting just one out, and recent acquisition Matt Thornton had to be called upon to prevent any further damage.
But the Nationals would not quit, and in the bottom of the ninth, the injured Jayson Werth became the hero. He drew a pinch-hit walk, moving to third on a Denard Span single, and scoring on another single from Cabrera. But Pirates closer Mark Melancon was able to keep the Nationals from scoring another, sending us to extras.
Ross Detwiler (W, 2-2) tossed two scoreless innings, and Werth became the hero again in the 11th. He led the frame off with a double, and after a groundout moved him to third, Scott Hairston knocked a sacrifice fly to left on which Werth scored easily. Appropriately, the throw was way off line.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the Nationals will have a great shot at keeping things going when the Arizona Diamondbacks, owners of the fourth-worst record in baseball, come to town for a four-game set. Jordan Zimmermann will take on Vidal Nuno in tomorrow’s opener.