WASHINGTON — If Dusty Baker had gotten the sign to his catcher faster, the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates might still be playing.
Instead, Baker was slow on the trigger in asking for an intentional walk, and the Nationals lost to the Pirates 2-1 in 18 innings Sunday on Starling Marte’s solo home run off Oliver Perez.
Baker took responsibility for the mistake of not getting his four fingers up in time to alert Wilson Ramos and Perez to intentionally walk Marte with pitcher Jonathon Niese on deck and Pittsburgh out of hitters.
“Before I could, he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark,” Baker said. “It hurts to make a mistake like that. I was aware of the situation, before I could get Wilson’s attention.”
The 18-inning marathon, shorter than only the 19 innings Cleveland and Toronto played July 1, took 5 hours, 48 minutes. Seventeen pitchers combined for a total of 540 pitches, but it was the one Perez (2-3) shouldn’t have thrown that the Nationals lamented afterward.
“It is a good idea in that case to walk him, but they gave me an opportunity to pitch against him,” Perez said. “In that case I tried to make a difficult pitch for him to hit. Unfortunately he made good contact o that pitch. It was my mistake.”
Marte’s seventh home run of the season, which went into the mostly-empty left-field seats, was enough of a boost to help Niese (8-6) get through a third inning of relief. Whether it was Niese, starter Chad Kuhl or the relievers in between, the Nationals couldn’t get much going at the plate and finished with eight hits.
The biggest of those came on a 2-2 count with two outs in the when with injured infielder Daniel Murphy took Pittsburgh All-Star closer Mark Melancon deep. Murphy was out of the lineup for a third consecutive day with a sore left hamstring, but his drive led to the Nationals and Pirates playing two.
“I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and get my ‘A’ swing off,” said Murphy, who’s unsure if he’ll be able to play Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. “I got a pretty good pitch to hit and put a pretty good move on it.”
Murphy’s home run took Max Scherzer off the hook for what would’ve been his second 1-0 loss in three starts. Scherzer gave up one run and six hits and struck out seven in seven efficient innings.
As impressive as Scherzer was, Chad Kuhl outdueled him with six innings of one-hit baseball. The Pirates righty allowed one hit and two runners and struck out five in six shutout innings.
“It was a start we needed out of him, and I think it’s a start he expected out of himself,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
By the time the game dragged into extra innings, the starts by Scherzer and Kuhl felt like distant memories.
“It was so long I don’t even remember Scherzer even pitching,” Baker said.
Even with all the other twists and turns, a perfect 16th-inning relay from center fielder Michael A. Taylor to shortstop Danny Espinosa to Ramos to get Eric Fryer out at the plate was a cause for some amazement. Hurdle accurately called it a crazy game.
“How about the relay they had in the 16th inning?” Hurdle said. “It’s the best relay in the history of the game in the 16th inning. Ever. It’s fantastic baseball.”
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco remained out with a sore left hamstring, but general manager Neal Huntington hopes he’ll play Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. … C Francisco Cervelli was set to play another inning on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, and Huntington said “we’ll see” about him being back as soon as Tuesday.
Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon was scratched with flu-like symptoms. Baker said Rendon was “sick as a dog.” … LHP Sammy Solis will be placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a right knee injury.
Pirates: After an off-day Monday, top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.86 ERA) is expected to start Tuesday at PNC Park against the Brewers. RHP Chase Anderson (4-10, 5.44) is scheduled to start the series opener for Milwaukee.
Nationals: With RHP Joe Ross not ready to come off the disabled list, RHP Reynaldo Lopez will make his major league debut Tuesday against Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Scott Kazmir (7-3, 4.52).
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