After grabbing an early five-run advantage, the Washington Nationals (67-43) made things interesting by giving up four runs, including one in the ninth, but the Pittsburgh Pirates (64-58) could not complete the comeback, and the Nats claimed a 5-4 win.
Lackluster showings from Tanner Roark and Rafael Soriano and some missed opportunities in the later innings made this game closer than it potentially could have been. But the Nationals scored just enough to hold on and, with the Atlanta Braves’ 7-2 win, maintain a six-game lead in the NL East.
Pirates starter Charlie Morton (L, 5-12) struggled early, to say the least. The first six Nationals reached base in the bottom of the first, with the only out coming as Denard Span was caught trying to steal third. Adam LaRoche and Bryce Harper both had RBI singles, giving the Nationals a very early 3-0 lead.
Harper had an excellent game, going 2-for-4 with the aforementioned two RBI. He is now hitting .313/.343/.594 with three home runs since Manager Matt Williams was asked if he should be sent to the minors (h/t Citizens of Natstown’s James O’Hara.)
Morton struggled with the heart of the Washington order again in the third, as the first three batters reached base. LaRoche and Wilson Ramos added RBIs to push the lead to five runs.
But the Pirates would not quit, and came back hacking against Roark (W, 12-7) in the top of the fourth. Starling Marte blasted a two-run homer, and Pedro Alvarez doubled to cut the lead to 5-3. The Pirates pinch-hit for Morton with Alvarez on second and two outs, closing the book on him after three innings, seven hits, five earned runs, three walks, and three strikeouts. Roark got pinch-hitter Jayson Nix to ground out and end the threat.
Neither team sniffed any more offense until the ninth, when the Pirates came to life again. Marte singled to open the frame and Alvarez drove him in with two outs, making it a 5-4 game with the tying run on first. Chris Stewart singled Alvarez over to third, but Soriano shut the door by inducing a foulout from Josh Harrison.
Tonight marks the second time in three appearances that Soriano has given up a run on three hits. Soriano has also failed to record a strikeout in each of those outings. He has always been a pitch-to-contact pitcher, so a run of bad BABIP can explain this away with ease, but it’s certainly worth noting.
Tomorrow, Gio Gonzalez squares off against Jeff Locke as the Nationals will gun for the series win.