After taking 2 out of 3 against Philly and getting the news that both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche would return tonight, the Nationals came in as fired up as they’ve been all season. For the first time, we would see both Zimmerman and Bryce Harper in the lineup together; both offensive faces of the franchise working towards one common goal. But for the first time since his call-up, he would not be the one making the big headlines, despite a decent night.
The revamped Nats would be tasked with handling inconsistent Pirates starter A.J. Burnett to kick off this 6-game road trip on a positive note, but tonight, Burnett wasn’t so inconsistent; he was dominant.
With all the offensive excitement, it’s hard to forget the two stellar pitching performances made tonight by Burnett and Edwin Jackson. Burnett would outlast Jackson going 8 innings (as to Jackson’s 7) allowing only 2 runs and striking out 10. Jackson would also give up only 2 runs in his 7 innings of work while striking out 5, and both pitchers would get the no-decision.
Other than the 2 home runs given up to Andrew McCutchen and Garrett Jones in the 4th inning, Jackson looked great on the mound. He issued only 1 walk and logged his most innings in a start since his complete game on April 14 against the Cincinnati Reds. Hopefully that will fuel him going into his next start on May 13, also against the Reds. Hopefully history repeats itself.
But now to dive into the tonight’s scoring.
It would all start with Wilson Ramos. After seeing no score in the first 2 innings, Ramos would lead off the third by taking an inside fastball 380 feet the opposite way, giving the Nats a 1-0 lead on his second home run of the year. Jackson would follow that up with a 1-out single between short and third, but it would prove to not matter, as Ian Desmond would end up grounding into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.
Then in the top of the top of the 4th, Harper would lead off the inning with a double to left, advancing to third on a LaRoche 1-out single to right. Rick Ankiel would then continue his recent hot streak, hitting a bloop single into center and plating Harper, tying the game at 2-2.
In the bottom of the 8th, Nate McClouth pinch-hit for Burnett, and would reach on a full-count walk on a questionable check swing call with 1 out. On a first pitch fastball to Jose Tabata, McClouth would steal second and reach third on a single up the middle, giving the Pirates runners on the corners with 1 down. Neil Walker would hit a sacrifice fly to right field, where Harper would make a bonehead attempt at throwing out McClouth, allowing Tabata to reach second and get into scoring position. Luckily Tyler Clippard would manage to get out of the inning with no further damage, but the Nationals would fall behind 3-2.
But in the top of the 9th, Zimmerman would lead off against former Nat Joel Hanrahan. On a 1-2 pitch, Zimmerman, who has been unlucky all season, finally got luck. McClouth would be unable to come up with the line drive to right field, allowing Zimmerman to reach base with a single, his first hit of the ballgame. And the story of the DL-comebacks would become the story of the Nationals coming back. On a payoff pitch right down the middle, LaRoche would take the ball to dead centerfield, giving the Nationals the 4-3 lead, and Hanrahan the blown save.
Henry Rodriguez would come in to close out the bottom of the 9th, and as he always does, he made it interesting, and painful. After retiring Casey McGehee on a flyout to right, Rodriguez allowed Alex Presley to reach on a bloop single to center field. But after two breaking balls in the dirt, Presley was able to reach third with one out. Rodriguez was able to strike out Yamaico Navarro, but wasn’t so lucky with Rod Barajas. Barajas would take Rodriguez deep to right field quick, hitting a 2-run, 2-out walk-off home run to send the Pirates to a Game 1 victory in this series.
“He’ll be back and he’ll be fine,” said Davey Johnson in a post-game press conference. “I’m concerned about it … but he’ll be there tomorrow.” Looks like H-Rod’s job is safe for now. But how long will that last?
Champ of the Game: I’d say it’s quite obvious that Mr. LaRoche deserves the award this evening. LaRoche looked like he hadn’t missed a game, going 2-3 with a walk and 2 hits, most notably the 9th-inning jack that gave the Nationals the lead. LaRoche is definitely deserving of some All-Star votes, and who knows? If this keeps up, Adam may need to change the spelling of his name from A-d-a-m to M-V-P!
LaRoche can’t be named game MVP, however, as Barajas hit the walk-off game-winner with 2 outs for the Pirates. After getting booed off the field in his previous at-bat, Barajas came up in the clutch.
Chump of the Game: Henry Rodriguez blew another save, and needs to get some control of that breaking ball. He can’t survive just on that fastball, as we saw tonight. Honorable mention: Danny Espinosa went 0-4 with 3 strikeouts, failing to produce in multiple clutch situations. He needs to get back to his early-season form.
Joel Hanrahan is the clear choice for the Pirates, blowing the save and almost taking the loss.
Unsung Hero: Ryan Zimmerman gets the nod here, as he reached base to make LaRoche’s home run the go-ahead shot.
For the Pirates, despite the face that he reached base on a questionable call, Nate McClouth and his good base-running allowed the Pirates to take the lead in the bottom of the 8th.