They’re never easy.
Rookie left fielder Jason Martin’s two-out double in the ninth broke a 3-3 tie, and Felipe Vazquez held the Nationals in the bottom of the inning after they loaded the bases with one out, giving the Pirates a 4-3 victory on Sunday afternoon and two win in the three games played in the nation’s capital.
Every game was decided by the bullpens. The Pirates battled back to take a lead in the eighth on Friday, saw it tied on a homer, then won in ten on Colin Moran’s longball. On Saturday the Pirates took another late lead only two see the game slip away on two Nationals’ home runs in the eighth.
Sunday they faced three-time Cy Young Award winner, a pitcher who is used to dominating the Pirates, but any thoughts of a perfect game or no-hitter were dashed when Adam Frazier singled to leadoff the game, then two outs later scored when Josh Bell lined a 107 mph blast off the scoreboard in right-center for a double. When Bell scored on a Colin Moran single, the Pirates led 2-0 and Scherzer seemed merely human.
Home plate umpire Kerwin Danley couldn’t let that stand, as over the next seven innings of Scherzer’s work he was gifted multiple strike three calls on pitches well out of the zone.
The Nationals immediately struck back in the home half of the first when Adam Eaton laced a single to right, stole second, and scored on Howie Kendrick’s double off the wall in left.
The Pirates tried to replay their first inning in the third, when Frazier walked and scored on another Bell double, but when Moran singled again, Bell was thrown out at home.
The Nationals tied the game in the bottom of the third, as an Eaton walk, Kendrick single, Anthony Rendon’s ground ball and a single by Juan Soto plated a pair.
And that’s where the teams stood, tied 3-3, until the ninth.
Taillon pitched well enough, but wasn’t sharp and left after six with what may have been a blister. Nick Burdi pitched a scoreless seventh, but only struck out one batter. Then with a tie game on the road with an off day following, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle went to his closer Felipe Vazquez in the eighth. A walk and a single put runners at the corners with two outs, but Yan Gomes deep fly to Starling Marte in center ended the threat.
With Nationals closer Sean Doolittle having worked two days in a row, manager Dave Martinez went with middle reliever Wander Suerto to hold the tie in the ninth. Josh Bell led off with a walk and went to second on Moran’s ground ball, but hot hitting veteran Melky Cabrera struck out swinging to bring the rookie Martin to the plate with two outs. The left-handed batter took a 2-1 curve at the knees deep out to left-center field, bouncing on the warning track and into the bullpen for a book-rule double which scored Bell with the go-ahead run.
All the Pirates needed for victory was three outs from “The Nightmare” Vazquez, and they seemed so elusive as the closer came out for his second inning of work. The speedy Victor Robles dropped a single into left field. Pinch-hitter Brian Dozier fanned on a 2-2 pitch. Michael A. Taylor worked a walk and then Adam Eaton took the first pitch to him and perfectly dropped it down the third base line for a bunt single. With the tying run at third and winning run at second with only one out, Kendrick worked the count 3-2 before taking a fastball for a called strike three. Up stepped Washington’s best hitter, Anthony Rendon, owner of a ten-game extra-base hitting streak. Vazquez said after the game, “I know him, I know he can hit...but I’m better than him.” Two balls, two strikes. Fouled back, and then a fly to center that settled into Marte’s glove for the final out of the game.
At 11 batters and 43 pitches, Vazquez’s longest outing as a Pirate, but the win was in the books, putting the team’s record at 8-6 for the young season, 1.0 games behind the Brewers who are at this writing losing to the Dodgers.
After an off day on Monday, the Pirates travel to Detroit for a two-game series, both at 6:40 p.m. Eastern. In Tuesday’s game, with Joe Musgrove scheduled to start against left-hander Matthew Boyd.