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Gopher balls, helpless Pirate bats lead to Washington sweep

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Williams was outstanding for five innings, but in the end he couldn’t keep the ball out of the seats. The Pirates’ hitters, meanwhile, flailed helplessly for nine innings and Washington took a 3-1 victory. That left the Pirates victims of a four-game sweep by an NL Eastern Division team for the second time in two weeks.

Williams had an easy time of it through nearly all of the first five innings. The Nats reached base only in the third, getting two runners on with one out and Bryce Harper up. Williams fanned Harper and retired Trea Turner to end the threat.

The Pirates, meanwhile, couldn’t handle the ultra-ordinary offerings of Jeremy Hellickson. There was no drama, just one dreary, pointless inning after another. Hellickson needed only 61 tosses to waltz into the sixth inning, exiting after a two-out single. That was one of only three hits the Pirates managed against him — they had only five on the day — along with no walks. The closest thing the Pirates had to a threat was a one-out double by Gregory Polanco in the first. That was followed by strikeouts by Starling Marte and David Freese.

Williams ran out of steam in the sixth. He was done in by two common threads from this series: gopher balls and AAAA journeyman Wilmer Difo. Difo singled to lead off; in all, he reached base 11 times in 15 plate appearances in the series, including 3-for-3 today. One out later, Trea Turner launched a two-run bomb. After one more out Ryan Zimmerman hit another.

That was more than the Nats would need. The Pirates’ only sign of life came in the eighth, when they loaded the bases with one out thanks to a Turner error. All the Bucs could manage was a Polanco force out to bring in a run, followed by a Marte fly out. They went down tamely in the ninth. The Pirates were 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position for the game and 3-for-22 in the series.

Now they move on for a three-game set in Milwaukee, which thankfully isn’t an NL East team.