Pirates regroup in extras to down Nats
Adam LaRoche strokes go-ahead double in 10th inning
WASHINGTON -- Before the Pirates' four-game series in the nation's capital started, manager John Russell insisted that despite the Nationals' rough start, the Bucs weren't dismissing these games as being any easier than the other 158 on the slate.
And indeed, the Nationals put up a valiant fight before falling to the Pirates, 8-5, in front of 18,579 at Nationals Park on Tuesday night. But this is the type of game -- one in which the Pirates took an early five-run lead against the worst team in the Majors -- that yes, the Pirates should win.
Add the fact that the club's recent eight-game losing skid is still fresh in everyone's mind, and a six-game swing to both the north and south sides of Chicago is upcoming, and maybe it's more appropriate to say that this is the type of game the Pirates needed to win.
"Yes," answered Adam LaRoche, whose two-run double in the 10th keyed the win. "Even with the [losing] stretch we had, we came in in hopes of taking this series. I know they're thinking the same thing. It showed tonight that neither team is going to show down, but this is a good opportunity for us to get something going."
It would hardly come that easy.
After watching the Nationals methodically chip away at a five-run lead and the Pirates' offense go silent, it came down to Pittsburgh trying to close a game without their closer. Matt Capps was out, having pitched in five of the previous seven days.
"It's a long year," said Russell, whose team won its four straight. "We can't continue to run him out there. I decided it's not worth it for one game."
Consequently, closing duties fell on Sean Burnett, who took the mound in the ninth with the Pirates leading, 5-4.
"It was something I never thought I'd be doing in the big leagues," Burnett said of the opportunity. "It was probably the coolest experience I've had in the big leagues is just trying to get the save."
Though the Pirates got the win, Burnett is still looking for that first big league save.
He allowed a one-out triple to first baseman Nick Johnson, walked Ryan Zimmerman, which set up a potential inning-ending double play situation, but then tried to bury a slider in the dirt to Adam Dunn that instead ricocheted off Jason Jaramillo's glove and into the stands. Johnson came home to tie the game at 5.
Burnett rebounded to strike out Dunn, but after allowing another walk, Russell turned to Tom Gorzelanny to get the final out. The lefty, who is only with the big league club to provide some temporary bullpen help, did just that with an inning-ending strikeout. The potential winning run was left stranded on second.
"Again, just like last [Monday] night, he did a great job," Russell said of Gorzelanny. "He was crisp. He attacked the zone. He's responded very well for us."
The Pirates, who began the 10th without a hit since Andy LaRoche's two-out, two-run homer in the third, didn't take long to respond.
Ramon Vazquez, who entered the game in the ninth as a part of a double switch, singled to lead off the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. After an intentional walk to Freddy Sanchez, Vazquez moved to third on a flyout.
Adam LaRoche then roped a two-run double into right.
"It looked like we were going to run away with it there for a little bit and they completely shut our offense down," LaRoche said. "It was nice to come up there late in the game and get a hit with a couple of guys on."
Brandon Moss, who had already driven in two with his first-inning double, padded the lead with an RBI single up the middle.
"I can't complain with not hitting any balls hard and getting two hits and three RBIs," said Moss, who now has seven RBIs in his past seven games.
"It goes a long way to have a positive outing," Gorzelanny said afterward. "I'm not going out there thinking about what I did before. I'm going out there trying to do what I can do and try to keep what's in the past in the past and move forward and use it as a learning experience. Coming up and doing this is definitely a good stepping stone."
Through the first five innings, this game didn't appear to be one that would end up so close. Three first-inning runs off Washington starter Shairon Martis and LaRoche's homer gave the Pirates an early 5-0 lead.
That left it up to starter Jeff Karstens and the Pirates' relief corps to make the lead stand. Karstens breezed through the first five innings, with the only blemish being Dunn's solo homer in the fourth. Beginning in the sixth, however, that things got a bit more adventurous.
Karstens stumbled, surrendering three two-out RBI hits in the inning. It was suddenly a one-run game.
"I was just making mistakes," Karstens said. "I rushed some things and started leaving the ball up."
The damage could have been worse, too, had Karstens not benefited from a nifty double play turned by Sanchez. Russell stuck with Karstens, though, and the righty rewarded him for doing so. On Karstens' 105th and final pitch of the night, he struck out pinch-hitter Ronnie Belliard to end the threat.
"Where we were in the lineup, we didn't want to make a double switch," Russell explained later. "We kind of needed him to get out of that inning. He battled."
Evan Meek walked three in the seventh, but protected the one-run lead successfully, setting up some ninth-inning drama and the final at-bat win.
"It always feels good to win, especially when we battle back," Moss said. "That feels good."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.