It was a day of unlikely heroics for the Washington Nationals (17-15), who topped the Pittsburgh Pirates (17-14) 6-2 at PNC Park Sunday afternoon.
The Gio Gonzalez (W, 3-2) of old returned to the mound in the nick of time, holding the Bucs to five hits, two runs and two walks over 6.0 innings pitched.
Gonzalez emerged the victor of the battle of the southpaws over Wandy Rodriguez (L, 2-2), despite the fact the Nats were without Bryce Harper for eight innings.
In the top of the first, Harper threw up his arms, arguing a checked-swing third strike with third base umpire John Hirschbeck. Hirschbeck didn’t like the challenge and booted Harper from the game, requiring Davey Johnson to call upon Roger Bernadina to take left field.
In the bottom of the first, on Gonzalez’s first pitch thrown, Starling Marte homered to left field to give the Pirates an immediate 1-0 lead. Jordy Mercer followed up with a double and Andrew McCutchen reached first on a throwing error by none other than Ryan Zimmerman at third. Gonzalez walked Gaby Sanchez to load the bases, but retired Russell Martin, Michael McKenry and Brandon Inge in order to pitch out of the jam.
The Nats erased Pittsburgh’s run in the second when Zimmerman walked, Adam LaRoche doubled and Danny Espinosa hit a sacrifice fly to center to plate Zimmerman.
Zimmerman successfully made contact in the fourth to start the inning off with a single and, with two outs, Espinosa socked one to left to make it 3-1 Nats.
In the bottom of the sixth, Sanchez chopped a single that deflected off Gonzalez to short and Martin brought him home on a 1-2 fastball.
Drew Storen relieved Gonzalez in the seventh, tossing a 1-2-3 inning to set up an opportunity for Washington to tack on insurance runs. And that they did.
Roger Bernadina managed to convert a mediocre bunt attempt into a bloop single – just his second hit this season – to lead things off in the eighth. With Bernadina running, Zimmerman grounded out to first before reliever Bryan Morris intentionally walked Adam LaRoche to get to Tyler Moore.
And then Moore got his revenge.
After striking out three times Sunday, Moore battled back from an 0-2 count to send Morris’s 89 MPH slider over the left field wall to give the Nats a reassuring 6-2 lead. The home run marked Moore’s first of the season.
Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano provided two near-perfect innings of relief to seal the deal on the Nats’ 6-2 win.
THE GOOD: At last, Roger Bernadina, Danny Espinosa and Tyler Moore had reasons to celebrate. Bernadina went 2-for-4 with a run scored on a day in which he had little reason to expect playing time. Tyler Moore finally enjoyed a successful route around the bases with a commanding 3-run shot to power the Nats in front.
THE BAD: Gio Gonzalez tossed 27 pitches in the first and struggled to gain control of the strike zone.
THE UGLY: Whether or not Bryce Harper’s actions warranted an ejection, his frustrations cost him a spot in the Nats’ lineup for the remainder of the game.
THE STATS: 6 R, 11 H, 2 BB, 9 K, 7 LOB, 2-for-9 RISP, 1 Error (Zimmerman, throwing)
NEXT GAME: Tuesday, 7:05 p.m. at Nationals Park – RHP Anibal Sanchez (3-2), RHP Jordan ZImmermann (5-1)
Alyssa Wolice is a Staff Writer with District Sports Page. An American University alum, Alyssa worked as a political blogger and financial reporter before making the switch to sports journalism. As a former production assistant, she covered the Nationals, Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, D.C. United and local collegiate teams. A New Jersey native, Alyssa currently serves as a community and sports reporter for a number of small-town newspapers in her home state and works full-time as a marketing communications specialist with a trade association based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter @awolice.