The return of Aramis Ramirez to the Pittsburgh Pirates after 12 years in the N.L. Central wilderness was spoiled by a Washington Nationals offensive assault on A.J. Burnett and two Pirates relievers.
In his second start after the All-Star break, as he did in his first, Burnett gave up 11 hits. He looked strong in the early innings, recording strikeouts on six of his first nine outs and giving up only one run in the second. With Ian Desmond on third after one-out singles by Desmond and Jose Lobaton, he scored when Burnett's wild pitch barely eluded Francisco Cervelli and Burnett stayed put at the mound, leaving home plate undefended.
Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez, developing into something of a nemesis for the Pirates, gave up only two hits over five innings. He was aided by the speed of center fielder Michael Taylor, who tracked down a deep fly ball by Gregory Polanco in the first and two by Ramirez in the second and fourth.
The Nats added two more runs in the top of the fourth. After Yunel Escobar led off with a double, Burnett hit Clint Robinson in the foot with a sinking curve, then did the same to Lobaton's foot to load the bases with one out. Matt den Dekker struck out, and only the light-hitting Gonzalez stood between Burnett and the dugout. But Gonzalez was able to hit a sharp comebacker that Burnett just missed backhanding, extending the inning and the lead to 2-0. Taylor's single to left scored the third Nationals run, but a good throw from Starling Marte nailed Loboton at the plate to end the inning.
The Nats added runs in the fifth and sixth to go ahead 5-0. The fourth run scored in the fifth on a double by Bryce Harper and singles by Escobar and Robinson; the fifth run scored in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Anthony Rendon after singles by den Dekker and Taylor. That finished Burnett for the evening.
The Pirates got back into it in the bottom of the sixth. Pedro Alvarez, who had entered the game in a double switch when Burnett was removed for Deolis Guerra in the top of the inning, led off with a solid single. Gregory Polanco, who looked great at the plate all night, reached first on an error at first base by Robinson, moving Alvarez to third. The Bucs then benefited from a batting-average-on-balls-in-play correction as Marte and Andrew McCutchen drove in runs with well-placed ground balls through holes in the infield. A double play by Ramirez slowed the inning's momentum, but Cervelli drove in another run with another well-placed grounder. Suddenly it was 5-3.
But the optimism dissipated quickly. Desmond hit a two-run homer off Guerra in the seventh, his third homer in three games in this series. Then in the eighth, Taylor hit a two-run homer off the now consistently ineffective Arquimedes Caminero. Maybe the Marlins weren't as dumb as we thought they were when they took cash for Caminero's contract. After the Taylor homer, the score was 9-3, and so it would remain. If Neal Huntington is indeed working the phones in search of middle-relief help, I encourage him to continue to do so.
We'll come out fresh and try to get them tomorrow with Gerrit Cole on the mound. You can't win them all. Unless you're the St. Louis Cardinals. They can, and apparently do, win them all. After winning five in a row, they now lead the second-place Pirates, who own the second-best record in the entire National League, by seven games.