Jacob Stallings has been a known commodity among Pittsburgh fans because his father Kevin Stallings coaches the Pitt Panthers men’s basketball team, but Friday night he was able to provide a more formal introduction where it was his bat that did the talking.
With each remaining game turning into essentially a must-win scenario to keep any very, very slim playoff hopes alive, the Pirates returned to PNC Park following an 11-game road trip and beat the Washington Nationals 6-5 in 11 innings after Stallings hit the game-winning single.
It was the Pirates’ fourth walk-off win this season.
For a while, it appeared as though a NL team would clinch its division title at PNC Park for a second consecutive year. The Nationals were tied or leading for practically all of the game, and the New York Mets, who needed to lose, trailed the Philadelphia Phillies in the early stages of that game.
Instead, the Mets doubled up the Phillies 10-5, and the Nationals lost this game.
Stallings wouldn’t have been in the position to earn the win for his team if Sean Rodriguez hadn’t come through in the ninth inning. Rodriguez and McCutchen both returned from the road trip on offensive tears, and Rodriguez kept his going Friday night against a familiar face.
Former Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon made his return to PNC Park and came out to a small Jumbotron video thanking him for his time with the Pirates.
It wasn’t all sentimental, however — Melancon was a perfect 12-for-12 in save opportunities as the Nationals’ closer.
With pinch-runner Pedro Florimon on first base, Rodriguez lifted a pitch on a 1-0 count that went just over the head of a leaping Trea Turner, Washington’s centerfielder. Florimon didn’t get the best break on the play, but his speed was enough to score the tying run.
Rodriguez now has 16 RBIs in his last 12 games.
Pittsburgh starting pitcher Jameson Taillon (4-4, 3.49 ERA) allowed three runs in five innings; he recorded seven strikeouts and didn’t walk any batters.
All the damage came in Taillon’s second inning.
It all started when Stephen Drew took a one-out, full-count pitch into left field for a ground-rule double. Drew battled in a nine-pitch at-bat, fouling off three separate full-count offerings before earning the double. Ryan Zimmerman was next to hit, and he also doubled to give the Nationals a 1-0 lead.
Three pitches later, Danny Espinosa hit his 23rd home run over the centerfield wall. 3-0.
But the Pirates chipped away at the Nationals’ advantage in the bottom of that second inning.
One-out singles from Alen Hanson and David Freese were cashed in on RBI singles from Taillon and Adam Frazier, bringing the Pirates to within one-run with the score at 3-2.
Hanson came into the game after left fielder Gregory Polanco left in the first inning with a left facial contusion after colliding with the wall when running down a Bryce Harper hit. Frazier replaced Polanco in left field, and Hanson took Frazier’s spot at second base.
Antonio Bastardo (3-0, 3.00 ERA) replaced Taillon in the sixth inning and was greeted two pitches into his outing by a Wilson Ramos solo home run, his 22nd homer of the season.
Later in the inning, with Jared Hughes on in relief, the tall right-hander walked in a run. It took a third Pittsburgh reliever, Zach Phillips, to get out of the inning.
The Nationals also used three relievers to get through the sixth inning, and a sac fly from Frazier allowed the Pirates to pull within two runs.
When Melancon came in for the save in the ninth inning, he appeared poised to earn his 43rd save of the season. He got some help when the Nationals successfully challenged a play where Jung Ho Kang hit a fair ball just past home plate and Ramos fired to Espinosa at second base. The second base umpire initially ruled McCutchen safe, stating the throw drew Espinosa off the bag. After a review, McCutchen was ruled out.
The following batter was Rodriguez.
After a scoreless 10th inning from Melancon, the Nationals called upon Yusmeiro Petit (3-5, 4.01 ERA) to do the same in the 11th.
With one out, Francisco Cervelli hit a ground-rule double. Washington then intentionally walked McCutchen to get to Florimon. This move backfired when he walked, loading the bases.
This brought Rodriguez to the plate. Petit got the third baseman to swing on a 1-2 pitch well out of the zone, meaning it was up to Stallings, the Pirates’ last available position player.
Stallings worked a full count, including a pitch on the outside corner that was ruled a ball. Petit had to come well into the zone with a full count. He threw a ball right down the middle of the plate, and Stallings responded with the game-winning hit.
It was the second hit of Stalling’s Major League career.
This game matched the most pitchers used in a game in Pirates history (9). The other two occasions were earlier this season on July 17 against these same Nationals and May 27, 2006, against the Houston Astros.
The Pirates are now four games behind in the Wild Card chase with nine to play.
This three-game series continues Saturday when Pittsburgh’s Ivan Nova (12-7, 4.19 ERA) takes on Washington’s Joe Ross (7-5, 3.48 ERA). Nova is 3-0 2.03 ERA in four starts at PNC Park.
Image credit: Joe Sargent/Getty Images North America