PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Catcher Rod Barajas has been struggling at the plate since the season started and entered game action hitting for just a .133/.200/.183 line in 60 at-bats. The veteran has been putting in extra work early in the cages, and it proved to pay off at PNC Park against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night.
Trailing 4-3 in the ninth with Alex Presley on third, Barajas took the first pitch from Washington’s reliever Henry Rodriguez for a two-run homer down the left field line for the walkoff win.
“I was pretty confident” Barajas said on whether he knew it was gone. “I faced him last year in a pretty tight situation. I know he throws hard. I was able to hit a double down the line off him last year. After seeing those two breaking balls in the dirt, I kind of figured chances were if he was going to throw it again, he was going to come hard. I consider myself a fastball hitter. I wasn’t going to let one go by if it was somewhere I liked it.”
“I really hit it good enough. I saw it hooking towards the end, so I wasn’t sure. With the way things are going, a gust of wind might come by and push it foul. I wasn’t positive. I thought it had a pretty good chance.”
When Barajas stepped to the plate, the catcher who was 0-for-3 with a whiff heard boo’s from the crowd at PNC Park. A group of fans were chanting ‘prove yourself’ before he crushed the pitch and sealed the victory.
“It’s not what you want as a player,” Barajas said. “Obviously if they’re booing you, you’re struggling. I’d love to be doing better. I’m working, I’m trying hard to improve. Nobody wants to hear that from their home fans. I was in the situation where I was able to put them back on my side if I did something positive at the plate.”
After taking a 3-2 lead into the ninth, Closer Joel Hanrahan blew his first save of the season. He entered game action 5-for-5 in save opportunities while allowing just a hit in two of his last nine appearances. After giving up a leadoff single to Ryan Zimmerman, former Bucco Adam LaRoche connected for a two-run shot to right-center field to take a 4-3 lead.
After Hurdle pulled Hanrahan and replaced him with lefty Tony Watson, the skipper said he had a good feeling.
“[Bench coach Jeff Banister] and I were having a conversation in the dugout,” Hurdle recalled. “Banny said, ‘I got a feeling.‘ And I said, ‘Yeah I’ve got a feeling too.’ Sometimes you just got to add the feeling. You can’t be looking around for tangible evidence all the time to make things right. I had a feeling. It was the way the game was going. I actually went out on the mound [to] visit after they scored. I said, ‘You know what? We’re going to hold them right here. We’re going to find a way to score two and this is going to get real exciting late.’ I’m just full of that stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t always play out.”
Right-hander A.J. Burnett bounced back in a huge way from his last trip to the mound in St. Louis. After allowing 12 runs over 2.1 innings, Burnett’s battery mate had faith that he would turn things around.
“No question in my mind that he wasn’t going to bounce back today,” Barajas said. “I had a lot of time to talk during that game in St Louis because I was in the clubhouse with him. He’s the type of guy who forgets quickly. He forgot about that. He was just anxious to get back out there. He had a good curveball today.”
“It bothered me,” Burnett said of his last outing. “We had some work to do in the bullpen. We got it done. I was a lot sharper tonight. One pitch leaked over. That’s probably the one that cost me, that homer. I was able to find that hook that I had in the past and it paid off…I’ve been around long enough. You put that game behind you as soon as you can. You go to work. The work paid off.”
Burnett allowed two runs on six hits over 8.0 innings. He walked just one while striking out 10. Burnett threw 93 pitches, 64 for strikes. It marked the 35-year-old’s 20th career game with 10 or more strikeouts.
“He competes. He’s got a short memory. He’s done some special things in the game. He’s been on the other side of things in the game” Hurdle said. “I think he was able to put it behind him quickly. He put in two side sessions in before the start. Crisp. Efficient. Probably only wanted one pitch back — the fastball to Ankiel…Good to see. Good for him…A.J. went out there tonight focused. Made pitches. Kept the ball down. Made a couple adjustments in his delivery that seemed to play out very well.”
After tossing 2.0 perfect innings while punching out four, Wilson Ramos took the first pitch fastball from Burnett for a solo-homer to right-center field to lead off the third frame.
“I’m so hard on myself that I should have had that pitch leak over for that homer,” Burnett said.
Rookie Phenom Bryce Harper led off the fourth by ripping a double down the left field line. After advancing to third on a one-out single to right by former Bucco Adam LaRoche, Harper scored on a RBI single by center fielder Rick Ankiel. It marked Harper’s sixth double over his nine games in the Major League’s.
Since allowing the second run of the outing, Burnett allowed just one hit and a walk over his final 14 at-bats, which included whiffing four of his final six Nationals. Burnett walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the crowd at PNC Park.
“When I found my hook toward the fourth inning, it seemed like everything Rod put down was a two,” Burnett said. “I’ve been around Rod long enough that you don’t shake Rod very often. It didn’t have a hump in it. It looked like a heater out of my hand.”
“He was throwing it so well,” Hurdle said. “He was just spinning it so well. When he gets hot with it, he’ll go ahead and throw it three out of five pitches because he can throw it for a strike. He can throw it for a chase. He can backdoor it.”
Right-hander Edwin Jackson made just two mistakes over his six inning outing. And they proved to be costly. The Bucs were only able to connect for three hits off the righty, but two of those were solo-home runs.
Andrew McCutchen went deep off Jackson to lead off the fourth inning to dead center field. The center fielder, who was back in the lineup after missing several games due to the stomach flu, took a 2-2 fastball for his first long ball of the season. McCutchen started the season going homerless over his first 94 at-bats.
After Jackson retired his next two batters, it was Garrett Jones’ turn. The right fielder crushed a 1-2 fastball from Jackson for a solo-shot to right field. It marked his fourth long ball of the season. The Pirates have won four of their last five games in which they’ve homered and are 3-1 on the season when they go deep two or more times.
“For us to bounce back from the two homers by Cutch and Jonesy, Rod coming through with his first. It was a big night for everybody,” Burnett said.