WASHINGTON – Wilson Ramos’ ground-rule double drove in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning, after Adam LaRoche’s two-run homer tied it in the eighth, and the Washington Nationals came back to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 4-3, Saturday night.
The NL East-leading Nationals won their fifth game in a row. The Pirates dropped their fourth straight and have fallen to third place in the NL Central.
Ramos’ hit off Justin Wilson (3-3) sailed over right fielder Gregory Polanco’s head and bounced into the home bullpen, scoring Bryce Harper from second base. Harper led off the ninth by drawing a walk – one pitch after he initially thought he’d earned a free pass – and advanced on a wild pitch.
Matt Thornton (1-0) earned the win with a 1-2-3 ninth, getting a pair of strikeouts on 96 mph fastballs.
Pittsburgh led 3-0 entering the eighth, but reliever Tony Watson gave that away on Kevin Frandsen’s RBI single and LaRoche’s 18th homer.
In the ninth, Harper checked his swing at a 3-1 pitch from Wilson and went about halfway down the first-base line, figuring he had a walk. But plate umpire Mark Wegner had called the pitch a strike. Harper eventually paused, turned around, got back in the batter’s box – and walked on the next pitch.
Ramos followed with his winning hit.
Jeff Locke threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings, and Starling Marte and Gaby Sanchez provided run-scoring hits, to help the Pirates build their lead. But with left-hander Watson, Pittsburgh’s third pitcher, on the mound, Washington’s offense finally showed up.
Watson began his appearance by walking pinch-hitter Michael Taylor, then giving up singles to Denard Span and Frandsen that made it 3-1, After a double play, Watson faced the lefty-hitting LaRoche, who drove a 1-0 pitch into the home bullpen. Reliever Drew Storen, who was warming up, caught the ball on the fly.
Locke allowed four hits, struck out six and walked two. He did not allow a Nationals runner to get past second base.
Before the eighth-inning rally, Washington’s Gio Gonzalez appeared on his way to losing a fifth start in a row, lasting only five innings and giving up three runs and seven hits.
In the third, Marte’s broken-bat RBI double and Sanchez’s two-run single inspired “Let’s go, Bucs!” chants from Pirates fans in the sellout crowd of 41,880.
Pirates: CF Andrew McCutchen, last season’s NL MVP, ran the bases and hit before Saturday’s game as he works his way back from a broken rib that put him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 4. McCutchen had run before, but manager Clint Hurdle said “this was just a little bit more; closer to 100 percent.” … Hurdle said RHP Gerrit Cole “passed all the tests” during a minor league rehab start Friday and should be ready to come off the DL within the next week. Hurdle said the team hasn’t decided which pitcher will be replaced by Cole in the rotation – or whether that pitcher will shift to the bullpen. … SS Jordy Mercer, who left Thursday’s game with right forearm tightness, was out of the lineup for the second day in a row.
Nationals: RF Jayson Werth sat out a fifth consecutive game because of a bothersome right shoulder.
In the series finale, Nationals RHP Doug Fister (12-3, 2.34 ERA) faces Pirates RHP Edinson Volquez (10-7, 3.67 ERA). Fister has won six of his last seven starts; Volquez has won six of his last seven decisions.
WHAT A PLAY
Pirates LF Travis Snider made a head-first, all-out, diving catch to rob Harper of a hit with a man on in the fifth.