The Washington Nationals (25-25) had suffered through four winnable losses in a row, until strong efforts from Doug Fister and a productive offense lifted them out of the mire to a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (22-27).
Despite having myriad chances throughout the series, the Nationals never managed to score more than three runs in the three previous games. On Sunday, they scored five, due primarily to better situational hitting. They went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position, which was marginally better than the zero or one RISP hits that had become a trend for the series.
Ian Desmond led the offensive charge with two RBI-singles and a stolen base. Denard Span and Jayson Werth also had two-hit days, and Anthony Rendon walked twice and slapped his team-leading fourth triple for an RBI. Adam LaRoche went 1-for-4 with a walk in his return from the DL.
Perhaps the Nationals had grown tired of losing, because they played aggressively and were several times rewarded for it. Span scored on a wild pitch with two outs in the first inning to set the tone after leading off with a double. Rendon followed suit in the fifth inning, taking advantage of Francisco Liriano’s second wild pitch of the game to score from third after hitting his triple.
Rendon was also awarded second base on obstruction after being caught stealing in the third inning when Ike Davis tripped him while caught in a rundown. Though no runs resulted from Rendon’s aggressiveness or his luck in that situation.
Werth and LaRoche started some offensive aggression in the seventh inning with back-to-back singles. But when Josh Harrison apparently robbed Desmond of a hit, it looked as if he had transferred some of the momentum to the Pirates’ side. However, manager Matt Williams correctly challenged the trap play, giving Desmond a hit and allowing the one-out rally to continue. Just two batters later, Jose Lobaton struck out to leave the bases loaded, highlighting another missed opportunity for the Nationals.
Despite some missed opportunities, Fister had the stuff to keep his team ahead in a low-scoring game.
On Sunday, the Nationals got what they paid for from Fister, who was on cruise control through five innings. He allowed no hits until the third inning, issued no walks and had thrown only 83 pitches when Williams unceremoniously ended his outing with a quick hook in the sixth inning.
Harrison led off the sixth with a first-pitch home run to score the Pirates’ first run of the game. Fister gave up a total of three hits to the first four batters of the inning before Williams had seen enough. Based on the look on his face, the quick move surprised Fister, who had been nearly perfect for the majority of his start. But his replacement, Craig Stammen, was able to induce an inning-ending double play on just one pitch, and no harm was done.
Stammen proceeded to get five consecutive outs before giving up back-to-back singles in the eighth inning, and then being removed from the game in favor of Aaron Barrett. Barrett struck out Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, but gave up a single to Ike Davis, which allowed a run charged to Stammen to score.
After Rafael Soriano pitched a 1-2-3 inning for his 11th save of the year, both Stammen and Barrett were awarded holds, and Fister earned his second win of the season.
The win prevented the Nationals from riding a substantial losing streak into their next meeting with the Miami Marlins – another should-be winnable series. Hopefully for the Nationals and their record, which is teetering precariously over .500, they will manage to win when it is expected of them.