Up by two runs with starter Gerrit Cole out of the game, Tony Watson faced Bryce Harper with two on and two out.
Harper hit a ground ball that Sean Rodriguez read off a hop and ran to the bag to record the third out.
“It was one of those in-between ones,” Rodriguez said. “That was basically one of those that if I get to it then there’s no play at first but I could at least keep a run from scoring. I took that chance and [Walker] said it was the right read.”
The Pittsburgh Pirates took three of four games against the Washington Nationals following a 3-1 victory Sunday afternoon and in doing so the Pirates improved to 14-2 against National League East opponents.
In the third inning it was the Nationals that struck first off Gerrit Cole [14-4].
With two outs in the inning, Michael Taylor hit his eighth home run of the season to right-center field. This was Taylor’s second home run of the series.
The Pirates struck back in the bottom half of the inning.
Chris Stewart hit a leadoff single and advanced to second base on a Cole sacrifice bunt. Gregory Polanco then singled and scored Stewart. Polanco has now safely reached base in 17 consecutive games. The next batter, Starling Marte was hit by a pitch which was followed by an Andrew McCutchen RBI single.
In the fourth inning, Neil Walker homered to center field. It was his ninth of the season. The home run also was the first allowed by Nationals starter Joe Ross [2-3] in his fifth career major league start.
Cole pitched 7.2 innings and allowed one run on seven hits. He struck out eight batters in 103 pitches, 69 of which were strikes.
Watson relieved Cole and faced Harper. Harper’s ground ball was picked by Rodriguez who barely beat the Nationals right fielder to the first base bag.
“Gerrit pitched a game but with runners on base, Harper is one of the best in the league in driving in runs,” Watson said. “He’s seeing the ball really well. Sean made a great play at first base.”
Rodriguez’s play was not the only above average play the Pirates made on defense.
Gregory Polanco fielded a Harper ball hit off the Clemente Wall in right field and from the warning track threw a ball to second base that got the out call.
“Polanco’s throw there are only a handful of guys that can make that throw,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Pedro Alvarez also robbed Harper as he made a play on another ground ball and then slid into first base just beating the runner.
Mark Melancon pitched the ninth inning and earned his major league leading 32nd save of the season. His 81 career saves as a Pirate rank one behind Joel Hanrahan for fifth on the all-time list. Melancon has now converted 30 straight save opportunities. He has now thrown 19.1 consecutive scoreless innings.
“He’s in a very good place and he’s using all his pitches,” said Hurdle. “He has been as efficient as I’ve ever seen him.”
PNC Park was packed with fans all series with four sellouts. With the 37,597 in attendance it marked a 15th sellout of the season and a new PNC Park record for most fans in a four-date series with 151,952 packing the ballpark.
Following a travel day Monday, the Pirates will face the Minnesota Twins. Charlie Morton [6-4 4.59 ERA] will face Mike Pelfrey [5-7 3.94 ERA]. This is Morton’s first game against the Twins and he is 3-8 with a 4.64 ERA in 13 career Interleague starts. The Pirates are 22-24 on the road this season.
Photo courtesy: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images