There are cities that feel like a point of no return. These cities tend to be northern, and they tend to be the sorts of places where, if you go any further north, you're not going to be able to find other people or nice things. Portland, Maine. Wausau, Wisconsin. Sudbury, Ontario. Keep driving, and you aren't gonna be able to find Thai food anymore, so you'd better stock up while you can.
For some reason, this game -- a four-hour, late-September affair in which shadows hung over the field, a hangover following a Nationals division-title celebration, a contentious mess that featured a bench-clearing incident in which A.J. Cole and the excitable Sean Rodriguez got thrown out, a strange broadcast in which Rob King had to fill in for a laryngitis-stricken Greg Brown -- felt a lot like one of those places. (King did just fine, but it was still strange.) Keep going after this, and you aren't gonna be able to find Pirates baseball anymore.
First, the game itself -- the Nats scored three in the first thanks to some bad pitching by Tyler Glasnow and some bad defense by Josh Bell. The Pirates got three of their own in the bottom of the inning thanks in large part to a series of walks from (A.J.) Cole. In the third, Bryce Harper's leadoff triple helped the Nats to a 4-3 lead, and Glasnow departed after those three underwhelming innings. (He did strike out five and walk one.)
The bench-clearing incident occurred at the end of the third after Cole threw behind Jung Ho Kang. Just look at Serpico looking pseudo-heroic in the picture up there -- Vermeer couldn't have drawn it better.
The Pirates scored two to take the lead in the fourth, but the Nats tied the game in the fifth as Trevor Williams issued two walks and then a double to Brian Goodwin.
The Bucs took the lead in the seventh as Bell walked and Kang continued the terrific on-field season he's had with his 20th homer in under 350 plate appearances. But Felipe Rivero quickly erased all that by allowing five runs in the eighth, including two on a homer by Jayson Werth, who'd been at the center of the bench-clearing incident earlier but wasn't ejected. The Nationals won 10-7, and the Pirates slipped to 77-78 on the season.
Play-by-play of the action seems inadequate to describe trying to watch this, or actually, trying to watch a lot of games the Pirates have played this month. Today's game featured 45 players and 17 pitchers. It dragged on eternally, and for no good reason.
There's been some talk about September roster rules changing in the next CBA, and personally, I'm all for it. It's nice that prospects are allowed to get cups of coffee in otherwise meaningless September games, but that doesn't mean I want to put my life on hold five times a night so that Mat Latos or Matt Grace or Phil Coke or Jared Hughes can warm up. Allowing teams to expand rosters but forcing them to pick an active 25-man each night would do the trick. (Or maybe 21-man, since teams are able to get through the regular season without using four of the starting pitchers on their active roster each day.) If the Pirates' season is going to fall apart down the stretch, I'd prefer it happened a little more quickly and with more dignity.