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Pirates win 18-inning marathon against Nationals, 2-1

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Two Pirates rookies, Chad Kuhl and Adam Frazier, might have keyed a big 1-0 win Sunday, but a bullpen meltdown at the last second led to a long, long broadcast of the baseball equivalent of static, after which the Pirates finally won 2-1 in 18 innings.

Which was a shame, really, because it's easy to forget that, earlier in the afternoon, there had been a bunch of very, very good Pirates performances. Kuhl pitched six brilliant innings, allowing just one hit, no walks and no runs while striking out five with a mighty sinker/slider combo. Kuhl lowered his season ERA to 4.19, making his case to remain in the Pirates' plans as they adjust their rotation over the next couple weeks -- with Jameson Taillon set to return, we'll see when Kuhl gets another start.

Kuhl, by the way, got a bit of help from David Freese in the fifth, when Wilson Ramos smashed a line drive toward third that Freese made a nice leaping grab to catch.

Perhaps understandably, the Pirates' offense couldn't get much going against a filthy Max Scherzer. But Adam Frazier, who'd already doubled in the first inning, doubled again to lead off the sixth. Starling Marte hit a line-drive double to left two batters later to bring Frazier home.

Kuhl hit Danny Espinosa to lead off the bottom of the sixth, but Erik Kratz caught Espinosa stealing -- Espinosa was initially ruled safe, but a challenge revealed that Jordy Mercer actually tagged him on the helmet.

The Pirates also got out of trouble the following inning. Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper both hit one-out singles, but Werth got doubled off second when Ramos again lined out, this time to Josh Harrison.

Tony Watson and Mark Melancon took over from there. Chris Heisey pinch-hit to lead off the ninth and smacked a line drive that glanced off Melancon's glove and went directly to Mercer, who threw to first for the out. It was one of a series of bits of luck that had gone the Pirates' way to that point, as the Nats' line drives always seemed to work in the Bucs' favor.

All that good fortune went for naught later in the inning, though, when Daniel Murphy pinch-hit for Ben Revere with two outs, worked a 2-2 count, and, with the Pirates on the brink of victory, hit a Melancon fastball to deep right for a game-tying solo homer.

From there, the game nearly died with a whimper. Arquimedes Caminero, who had pitched so well recently, entered in the 10th and had an immediate meltdown, throwing eight straight balls to Harper and Ramos before being replaced by A.J. Schugel. Schugel, though, got a fly ball and a double play to bail Caminero out, and the game headed to the 11th.

And after that ... the best way I have to explain this is that I was watching the game while reading bits of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise, and the book and the game worked together perfectly for me as dramas of increasing senselessness. Nobody scored, and the few baserunners on both teams found ways to run into outs, as if not losing your mind on the bases wasn't an option. The game went on for five innings after the Pirates used Francisco Liriano to pinch-hit. Then it was the 18th inning when I saw on that Marte had homered to put the Pirates up 2-1. My feed was at least 15 minutes behind at that point.

So let's go back three hours or so to the ninth inning. Was it worth it, Daniel Murphy? Couldn't you have just accepted that the Nationals would eventually lose, so that we all could move on with our lives? Think about that next time you want to be a hero.

But whatever. It worked out. Marte had three hits on the day, Frazier doubled three times and walked, and everybody in the Pirates' bullpen besides Melancon and Caminero did a great job. (Literally, everyone pitched, including Juan Nicasio and Jon Niese, who combined for six scoreless innings.) On the other side of the ledger, Andrew McCutchen went 0-for-8 to see his average drop to .244. But again, whatever. The Pirates finally did win it, after all.