Harper’s Walkoff Homer Lifts Nationals 9-7 over Pirates

Jordy Mercer Pirates

Jordy Mercer, Josh Harrison and Gaby Sanchez collected three each hits in a losing effort. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Thursday’s sweep attempt of the Washington Nationals was one of the wildest games of the season. The Nationals (49-53) walked off winners 9-7 on Bryce Harper’s two-run homer, but that was a mere punctuation on the craziness before.

From Mike Winters’ erratic strike zone to the Pirates’ (60-40) three-error blunder-splosion, to the ejections of both managers, to Josh Harrison’s big home run, to the Bucs’ four-run 9th inning tying the game, the pendulum swung rapidly before knocking over Pittsburgh’s domino. Truly, the result could have gone either way, but several miscues gave the W to Washington.

A Comedy of Errors

The Pirates’ defense, such consistent vacuums of the baseball over the first 99 games, frittered away four runs their first inning out in the field. Bryce Harper led off with a hit by pitch, then Steve Lombardozzi reached on a bunt single. Harper got caught between 2nd base and 3rd, but Clint Barmes’ throw plopped off Pedro Alvarez’s glove and into the grass for the first Nationals’ run.

Starter A.J. Burnett was no innocent bystander, though. He gave up an RBI single to next batter Ryan Zimmerman, making it 2-0. Though he retired the next two batters, he then allowed two more singles. Gaby Sanchez’s throwing error and Jordy Mercer’s muffed routine ground ball kept the inning going, but Burnett escaped by getting opposite starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez to ground out.

Getting ‘em Back

A.J. Burnett pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates

A.J. Burnett settled in nicely following a dreadful 1st inning. (Photo Credit: David Hague)

Give Burnett and the defense credit: they were just fine for the rest of his start. Over Burnett’s last six innings, he allowed five more hits, no more runs, one walk and five strikeouts. He pitched efficiently, ending on a sparkling 14 groundouts to 3 flyouts.

His quality start offered the Pirates’ offense plenty of time to bite into the early four-run deficit, a difficult task against sub-3.00-ERA Gio Gonzalez. The Bucs collected their hits though. The first run was scored by Gaby Sanchez in the 4th, who hit a leadoff single and came around to score on Burnett’s groundout.

In the 6th, Sanchez again singled off Gonzalez, then Josh Harrison crushed a fastball to center field for his season’s first home run. Suddenly, the Pirates trailed by just one run.

Vin Drops It

Trouble arrived once Burnett exited. Vin Mazzaro walked Roger Bernadina with one out, then gave up a single to Harper to put runners on the corners. Lombardozzi smacked a ground-rule double to left for a two-run Washington lead.

Mazzaro struck out Zimmerman for the second out. Then Adam LaRoche roped a liner to right field. Travis Snider made the correct decision to go all out for the catch and the potential third out, but just missed the grab and LaRoche trotted to 3rd base for a 2-RBI triple. The four-run Nationals lead looked too large to overcome.

Comeback… Then Denied

Not so fast as closer Rafael Soriano wanted to help. The erratic-throwing reliever walked first two batters Neil Walker and Starling Marte. It was go-time, even though the Pirates entered the 9th inning 0-for-12.

Jordy Mercer doubled to center field. First run. Andrew McCutchen struck out on all out-of-zone pitches, but Russell Martin hit a ground-ball single to left. Second run. Left-hander Ian Krol entered to face potential go-ahead run Alvarez, but he walked the slugger. Jose Tabata struck out and gave Josh Harrison the hero’s chance.

Harrison delivered, pounding a single up the middle. Third run. Fourth run. Tie game. Garrett Jones struck out to miss the chance for more, but the Pirates appeared to be in the right spot facing the bottom of the Nationals lineup in the Bottom 9th.

Reliever Bryan Morris gave up a one-out single but drew a ground ball for the second out. But as interim manager Jeff Banister had only three pitchers left and the potential for extra innings, Morris stayed in to face Harper. The 20-year-old phenom destroyed Morris’ slider for his third hit and the game-winner.

The Nationals’ playoff chances remain decidedly down for the count, but Pittsburgh could not deliver the knockout blow. The Pirates’ bullpen has been due to regress and give up more run since half past always; a missed Snider catch and HarperBomb are two quick ways for such regression to form.

James Santelli

Author: James Santelli

James covers the Pirates beat for Pirates Prospects. He is a Broadcast Journalism student at USC and has written for such outlets as NBCOlympics.com, Pittsburgh Magazine and the official websites of the Los Angeles Clippers and Pittsburgh Penguins. James previously covered the Pirates for Pittsburgh Sports Report. He also broadcasts play-by-play for the USC Trojans baseball team and was awarded the 2013 Chick Hearn Memorial Scholarship and Allan Malamud Scholarship. James dispenses puns at his Twitter account (@JamesSantelli) where he promises to write in first-person. Google

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  • CalipariFan506

    The Morris vs Harper match up concerned me. But already having taken the first three games and with the pitchers spot due up in the 10th there was no need to use Wilson/Watson for an out. Not every game needs to be managed like a must win game.

    • jon6er

      I’ve heard people say a loss in April doesn’t mean that much. And I’ve seen teams miss the playoffs by one game. No thanks, I’ll try to win every game that is winnable like today’s game. If its 12-4 I might put Mercer in. I sure as hell wouldn’t leave my guy in there to face a left-hander who is 2 for 4 on the day right after my team fought all day to get back in it. If we get out of the ninth and then score in the top of the tenth we might win the game. They aren’t pinch hitting for Harper under any circumstance so he is facing Watson or Wilson and thank you Morris for the two outs.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bryan.graham.773 Bryan Graham

    Well, you can’t spell clutch without cutch, but there sure isn’t any clutch in our Cutch this season. Secondly, for all those who thought the Pirates should have kept Inge over Harrison, well, better luck next time as Harrison had Inge’s season production in 1 game more or less. Hopefully the last 2 outings from the bullpen aren’t a sign of things to come and lastly I hope this is the last time they break out the alternate Chico’s Bail Bonds uniforms.

  • jamminjoe66

    Barmas & his way over rated D can go any time also. That’s 2 completely botched run downs this year that has cost the bucco’s a game. (Philly earlier this year) you learn early you don’t run them all the way to the next base. Can’t believe that clown earns a big league paycheck

  • CalipariFan506

    Jon6er, you use Wilson for an out he is unavailable today in Miami. Then you’d go to Watson or Gomez and that’s it. Now the bullpen is relatively in tact for today and this series. You start burning through lefty/righty match ups and you’re going to end up with issues into the St Louis series more than likely.

  • Monkshot

    I agree, with the pitchers spot due up in the top half, Bannister couldn’t afford to go to a favorable match up. Morris has been pretty good this year, and sometimes you have to trust your players to succeed in a situation that necessarily may not suit them. Even though the Pirates would never admit it, I think they are looking ahead to the Cards series, making sure to go into that game with as many arms available as possible.

    Is it me or has Hurdle been allowing the starters to pitch deeper into games since the start of the second half?

    Bryan, I have noticed the same thing regarding Cutch. Don’t get me wrong, he’s having a great year and I don’t know where we would be without him, but he does seem to be struggling in high leverage late inning at bats.

  • smurph

    No question Morton, Cole and Liriano have been stretched out recently. This is partly from the fact all three started later in the season, so they weren’t quite stretched out, and the fact that they have recently been able to keep their pitch counts fairly low. This definitely helps the bullpen.
    I also agree that you can’t get into the pitcher/hitter matchup on a regular basis or you will be using 4-5 relief pitchers every game

  • smurph

    I don’t know if you can feel good about a loss, but that’s how I felt after yesterday’s game. We have been complaining about lack of offense, but after the defense gave up a 4-run lead, you figure with the Pirates offense against a top NL pitcher, their chances were pretty slim. Yet they came back from a 4-run deficit twice. And they still took 3 of 4 on the road against a decent team. Yes it was a bad game defensively and it was a bad game for the bullpen, but we haven’t seen too many of those this year.