After Wilson Ramos’s ball bounced off the right field warning track and into the bullpen, he became one of many to get ice poured on his head this week. But he was the only one to lead the Washington Nationals (68-53) to a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates (64-59) with a walk-off ground-rule double.
With the win, the Nationals extended their winning streak to five games, matching their longest of the year. They held their lead in the National League East at six games, and earned the best record in the NL with the Dodgers’ loss to the Brewers.
In spite of yet another disappointing outing from Gio Gonzalez and a sluggish performance from the offense through seven innings, the hitters were able to rally in the eighth and ninth innings to walk away (rather, off) with the win.
Down by three runs in the eighth, Tuesday’s call-up Michael Taylor started the inning as a pinch hitter with a walk, and Denard Span immediately followed with a single to right. Kevin Frandsen smacked his third hit of the night to score Taylor and put the Nats on the board for the first time.
With two outs and Span on third, Adam LaRoche made it a ball game with one swing when he hit a 1-0 pitch into Drew Storen’s glove in the Nationals’ bullpen to tie the game. The homer was his fifth in his last 10 games as he continues his .333/.438/.704 tear through August.
Matt Thornton (W, 1-3) pitched a spotless top of the ninth with two strikeouts after Craig Stammen faced the minimum over three innings to put the Nats in a position for a comeback.
Bryce Harper walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth, and Ramos delivered the walk-off with a ground-rule double to end the game.
The comeback helped Gonzalez avoid his fifth consecutive loss after he gave up three runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings. It was his eighth outing of five or less innings in 20 starts this season.
There were occasional bright spots to his performance, like when he struck out the side in the second inning, but with runners on first and second in the bottom of the fifth the best move was to pinch-hit for the pitcher’s spot and pull Gonzalez from the game.
Three of five of the Nationals’ starters have ERAs under 2.95. Stephen Strasburg’s 3.53 is working its way down. Gonzalez is the lone outlier with a 4.06 ERA and an even more inflated 5.17 in August.
Gonzalez did what he could to lower those numbers on Saturday night, but he has a long way to go to rejoin his teammates and the dominant 2012 version of himself.
The frustration of Gonzalez’s struggles and missed opportunities by the offense was erased with an exciting finale. Yes, the Nationals still have recurring issues they need to address, but tonight, their win streak lives on for one more day.