The Nationals lost game three of their four game series to the Pirates Wednesday night at Nats Park by a score of 4-2, in a game that was close until the ninth inning.
Stephen Strasburg and Francisco Liriano battled for eight innings in a pitcher’s duel where the Nats scored nothing and the Pirates scored one on a home run by Pedro Alvarez in the bottom of the second.
Strasburg pitched brilliantly, throwing eight innings, giving up one run, striking out twelve and walking none. Liriano gave up no runs and carried a no hitter into the sixth inning when Anthony Rendon finally singled with two outs to break up the no-no. Both pitchers only gave up two hits.
The Nationals played without Ian Desmond (broken blister on his hand, leaving him unable to bat) and Bryce Harper (knee acting up). Rendon moved to shortstop and Steve Lombardozzi played second. Rendon botched the first ball hit to him for an error, but it did not lead to a run. Scott Hairston played left field in Harper’s place.
The Nationals threatened in the bottom of the eighth. Lombardozzi led off with a single. Johnson decided to pinch hit Kurt Suzuki in Strasburg’s place and had him bunt Lombo to second to get the runner into scoring position. That was a scary moment, because Suzuki is not a good bunter and he had difficulty getting the bunt down. Hairston then struck out and the Pirates changed pitchers, calling on Justin Wilson to get the last out of the eighth. He did so, getting Rendon to pop up and stranding Lombardozzi at second.
Drew Storen started pitching the ninth inning for the Nationals. The score was 1-0 and Storen’s job was to hold the Pirates there so that the Nats would have a chance in the bottom of the ninth. Storen Storen did not get the job done. Starling Marte singled and Neil Walker doubled, scoring Marte. Storen got Andrew McCutchen to line out, and then issued an intentional walk to Pedro Alvarez to set up the double play. Gaby Sanchez struck out. Now the Nats had two outs and the game was still in reach with the score 2-0. Johnson elected to pull Storen for Francisco Abad because Travis Snider, a left hander, was scheduled to hit next. As soon as Abad was announced, Clint Hurdle pulled Snider back and called on right handed Jose Tabata to pinch hit.
Abad unfortunately hit Tabata with a pitch to load the bases. Michael McKenry, the back up catcher, then got his first hit of the night, a single that scored two more runs. Abad got Clint Barmes to ground into a fielders choice to end the inning, but the damage had been done. Now the Nats were behind by four runs, which for this offense might as well be ten.
The Nationals made it interesting in the bottom of the ninth. Justin Wilson continued to pitch for the Pirates. Ryan Zimmerman singled and Jayson Werth hit a home run. Suddenly the score was 4-2, and the Nats had no outs. The Pirates brought in Mark Melancon to pitch. LaRoche struck out (again–why oh why doesn’t he bunt the ball to third against that modified shift?) Wilson Ramos singled. Denard Span grounded the ball to the Pirates second baseman Walker, who tried to tag Ramos as he was running by and missed him, then threw the ball to first to get the out on Span. The second base umpire, Laz Diaz, called Ramos out claiming that Walker had made the tag and the game was over. There is no way Diaz could have seen any tag in his position and replays showed that Walker missed Ramos by a good six to eight inches. Ramos immediately argued the call with Diaz, and Johnson came out to argue, but it did no good.
To compound the misery for the Nationals, it turns out that Ross Detwiler has a disc problem in his back that is going to require treatment. He is projected to be out another month.