The Pirates won their fifth straight game tonight in a squeaker against the Nationals, who still can't depend on their bullpen. It was a pitching duel between Paul Maholm and John Lannan, with Maholm striking out seven batters through six innings. Maholm threw a ton of pitches, though, and had to come out of the game with a pitch count of 114. (Fortunately, John Russell stopped there, or else we'd probably be looking at a near-guaranteed loss in five days.)
That left the last three innings to the Bucs' depleted bullpen, and Jesse Chavez and John Grabow carried the seventh and eighth. With a 1-1 score in the top of the ninth, the Pirates loaded the bases with a series of singles against Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan's fastball touched 97 tonight and he managed to get two outs without any runs scoring, but for some reason he threw several consecutive sliders in the dirt against Adam LaRoche, and one got away from catcher Wil Nieves. Freddy Sanchez scampered home for the go-ahead run.
If not for the Nationals' bullpen, I'm not sure where the Pirates would be--Nats relievers have taken all three losses for the series, despite strong starts from Lannan and particularly Ross Detwiler. The only Nats reliever who has pitched so far this series and not been scored upon is Ron Villone.
Matt Capps pitched the bottom of the ninth and, fortunately, got the save--he got Nieves to ground into a double play, then got Josh Willingham on a long flyout to center.
The Pirates left eight runners in scoring position with two outs, which partially explains how they only scored twice despite reaching base fifteen times. Sanchez had two hits and Andy LaRoche had three, all singles. It's safe to say that Andy is in decent shape, by the way--his season line is now a respectable .278 AVG / .350 OBP / .405 SLG. Now all he needs is a string of extra base hits to transform his season from a year out of Joe Randa's career to something a bit better.
Anyway, the Pirates are suddenly two games below .500 again. That's not great, but it's not all gloom and doom either. It's easy to lose perspective after watching an eight-game losing streak.