Harper Hits 1st Career Walk-Off, Snaps Nats’ Six-Game Losing Streak
WASHINGTON — Right in the middle of it all from the very start to the end, Bryce Harper delivered the first game-ending homer of his career, a two-run shot in the bottom of the ninth Thursday that lifted Washington to a 9-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates and ended the Nationals’ losing streak at six.
Harper drove a hanging slider over the wall just to the left of straightaway center with two outs off Bryan Morris (4-4), who earlier allowed a single to Kurt Suzuki.
Harper raised his right fist overhead as he rounded first base and was mobbed by a bouncing pack of teammates as he reached home plate.
Ian Krol (1-0) earned the win, despite being part of poor relief in the ninth that allowed the Pirates to erase a four-run deficit.
It was an eventful afternoon that included three errors by Pittsburgh infielders in the first inning and the ejections of both managers.
The Nationals blew leads of 4-0 and 7-3, the latter when closer Rafael Soriano was charged with four runs while getting only one out in the ninth. He walked the first two batters, then gave up Jordy Mercer’s run-scoring double and Russell Martin’s RBI single. Until then, the Pirates were 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position.
Nationals bench coach Randy Knorr, who took over after manager Davey Johnson was tossed in the fifth, then lifted Soriano and turned to rookie Krol. A walk loaded the bases, and Josh Harrison — who homered earlier — tied the game with a two-run single.
But Harper came through with his 14th homer of the season, a day after sitting out because of a bothersome left knee that landed him on the disabled list recently. He made a headfirst diving catch for the day’s first out, then got hit by a pitch in the bottom of the first.
Briefly breaking out of a slump that had seen it score a total of 13 runs while going 0-6 since the All-Star break, Washington batted around to go ahead 4-0 against A.J. Burnett after one inning. First baseman Gaby Sanchez, second baseman Mercer and third baseman Pedro Alvarez each committed an error, meaning only one run was earned.
After Harper reached, Steve Lombardozzi followed with a bunt single, and Harper strayed too far off second, getting caught in a rundown.
But shortstop Clint Barmes’ throw got past Alvarez, who was charged with an error. That allowed Harper to come all the way around to score, and Lombardozzi wound up on second. Ryan Zimmerman’s opposite-field single made it 2-0.
Two outs later, Ian Desmond, who missed Wednesday because of a burst blister on his left palm, singled. And Denard Span, struggling so much he was dropped from the leadoff spot to No. 7 in the batting order, singled to right. Two runs scored on the play, making it 4-0, because of Sanchez’s throwing error.
The next batter, Kurt Suzuki, reached on Mercer’s fielding mistake, making it the first time since July 4, 2011, against Houston, that the Pirates made three errors in an inning.
Took that kind of sloppiness for the Nationals’ slumbering offense to wake up.
Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez struck out 11 in 5 2-3 innings, repeatedly working around hits (eight) and walks (four) and allowing three runs.
Harrison’s two-run shot off Gonzalez in the sixth — his first homer of 2013 — pulled Pittsburgh within 4-3. But the Nationals added insurance off Vin Mazzaro in the eighth on Lombardozzi’s RBI ground-rule double and Adam LaRoche’s two-run triple to make it 7-3.
Wasn’t enough. Nothing seems to be lately for Washington, which led the majors with 98 wins last year but entered Thursday 48-53 and a season-high nine games behind NL East leader Atlanta.
Johnson was tossed from the game when he came out of the dugout while Desmond was arguing a called third strike. Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle got ejected in the seventh after Alvarez was thrown out at first while veering too far toward second base after a single.
It was that kind of game.
During their previous 13 games, Washington scored four or more runs — not in an inning, but in an entire game — only three times, never putting up more than five. That, in a nutshell, is why Washington lost 11 of those 13 games.
Burnett wound up going seven innings, not allowing another run.
NOTES: The last time the Nationals produced four runs in an inning was the fifth on July 7, during an 11-7 victory over the Padres. … Pirates RHP Vic Black made his major league debut, entering with two outs in the eighth. … Gonzalez’s 11 strikeouts equaled his career high. … The Pirates open a three-game series at Miami on Friday, with Pittsburgh LHP Jeff Locke (9-2, 2.11) starting against RHP Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 3.28).
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