Pirates 3, Nationals 2

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PITTSBURGH (AP)—When the Washington Nationals aren’t scoring much, there’s not much margin for error no matter the opponent. Even if it’s the Pittsburgh Pirates, who may be figuring out how to win close games.

Jose Bautista’s second sacrifice fly of the game drove in the winning run in the ninth inning and the Pirates rallied from two runs down to beat the slumping Nationals 3-2 on Friday night.

The Nationals have been limited to five runs while losing four in a row. They haven’t scored more than four runs while dropping seven of nine, and they’ve also lost 10 of 13.

“Again, we needed to score more runs,” manager Manny Acta said. “We were leading 2-0 in the seventh but couldn’t finish it. … It should tell every one of our guys we need to get it going offensively. It’s that simple. It’s easier said than done, but we need to score more runs.”

Ronny Paulino started the ninth with a single to left against Jon Rauch (3-2), who retired all three batters he faced in the eighth. Jack Wilson followed by bunting Paulino up, with first baseman Dmitri Young pausing to look at second before deciding to take the certain out at first base.

Rauch’s first pitch to Nate McLouth bounced away from catcher Brian Schneider for a wild pitch, sending Paulino to third and bringing in pinch-runner Jose Castillo. After Acta ordered McLouth intentionally walked, pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit walked on a 3-2 pitch that was slightly outside to load the bases with one out.

“I just had an off night, that’s the easiest way to explain it,” Rauch said. “I didn’t do my job. I couldn’t get ahead of hitters and then you have to come in with a pitch. … I put us in a bad situation and it’s my fault.”

Bautista worked the count to 3-0 before hitting a full-count pitch to left against a drawn-in outfield, allowing Castillo to score easily. Bautista got his fourth RBI in three games on what he felt was ball four, but he didn’t dare risk not swinging the bat.

“I wasn’t thinking about hitting a sacrifice fly, I was hoping to put the ball in play and make something happen and I did,” Bautista said. “The pitch was up and in. Maybe it was a little close—I think it definitely would have been called a ball. But the last thing you want to do is strike out looking.”

Matt Capps (4-4) worked a scoreless ninth for the victory. The Pirates have won a pair of one-run games and another in 10 innings during their last four games following two extra-inning losses during a three-game sweep by the Angels last weekend.

“This feels good, especially after losing those two games,” Capps said. “We won a tight one before it goes to extra innings and hopefully we can feed off this.”

The Nationals, held to three runs during a three-game sweep by Atlanta earlier this week, took the lead on Ryan Langerhans’ solo homer in the third and Felipe Lopez’s sacrifice fly in the seventh, with both runs coming against Ian Snell. Dmitri Young singled for his second hit of the game and Snell hit Austin Kearns with a pitch ahead of Lopez’s one-out sacrifice fly.

Lopez’s RBI was his first in eight games and came in his first game batting seventh this season.

“We’re frustrated when we don’t score more runs,” Young said. “But give credit to the good pitching we’ve faced: Tim Hudson, John Smoltz and Ian Snell, a guy nobody talks about but is fifth in the league in ERA.”

Despite not getting the decision, Snell bounced back from his worst start all season by holding Washington to five hits and two runs over seven innings. In his previous start, Snell—pitching for the first time since burning a hand while cooking—gave up five runs and 10 hits over six innings during a 10-1 loss to the Angels.

Snell is 6-5, but his 2.90 ERA gives him an outside chance of making the NL All-Star team.

“I think I’m worthy of consideration,” Snell said. “I’d obviously love to go.”

The Pirates, coming off a 3-6 road trip, were shut out for six innings by Matt Chico in his second effective start against them this month. But they needed only four batters to tie it at 2 in the seventh against Saul Rivera.

McLouth’s triple to the right field wall, which Kearns had in his glove but couldn’t hold, scored Wilson. Bautista’s followed with a one-out sacrifice fly.

Notes

Langerhans’ fourth homer was Washington’s first in six games. Washington has gone five games without homering three times this season… Chico, winless in eight starts since May 17, gave up two runs while pitching a career-best seven innings in his other start against Pittsburgh, on June 7. … McLouth was 5-for-33 (.152) as a pinch-hitter until he tripled.

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