The late, great Ernie Banks famously said “Let’s play two” whenever his Cubs played in a double header. The Nationals and Pirates did just that on Sunday afternoon, but not in a double header. The two teams played the equivalent of two games as the game ended after 18 innings. The Nats fell to the Buccos 2-1 with the help of a solo home run by outfielder Starling Marte in the top of the 18th.
Pittsburgh led 1-0 in the sixth inning when Marte doubled home Adam Frazier. That lead would last all of two and two-thirds innings. Down to their last strike, the Nats knotted the game up when Daniel Murphy, who was pinch-hitting, launched a solo home run to extend the game. The Pirates were one strike away from winning the game until Murphy’s heroics.
Pitching was the story of this series and that tone was set by Stephen Strasburg on Friday night. After deciding to skip the All-Star Game in his hometown of San Diego, Strasburg baffled the Pirates to help his team take game one of the three-game set.
Strasburg pitched eight strong innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out six. With the win, Strasburg improved to 13-0, becoming the first National League pitcher in the divisional era (1969) to start a season 13-0. Not only did he pitch brilliantly, he knocked in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh on a sacrifice bunt. The Nats went on to win 5-1.
Game two saw another outstanding outing from the Nats starting pitching. Tanner Roark also pitched eight shutout innings, scattering five hits, walking one and striking out five. He went toe-to-toe with Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, who pitched four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) and seven hits. Roark also helped himself at the dish with a two-run single in the bottom of the fourth.
Antony Rendon was responsible for the game’s first run when he singled home Jayson Werth. That would be all the support Roark would need, but Rendon launched a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
The Nats fell in the series finale in what was the longest game in their history, but still remain the top team in the NL East, leading the New York Mets and Miami Marlins by six games. This was a good series win for the Nats as the Pirates entered the All-Star break winning nine of their previous 12 games.
If the starting rotation can remain healthy, Strasburg especially, this team can do some damage come October.
Washington will have the day off on Monday before hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres in three-game series to end the week.