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Harper's homer snaps Pirates' win streak

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Thursday, July 25, 2013, 4:21 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — For eight brutal and at times zany innings Thursday, the Pirates endured every mishap short of a major injury.

They played awful defense in the first inning and blew oodles of chances at the plate. There were angry words in the dugout, an erratic strike zone by the home plate umpire and an unusual call at first base that led to the ejection of manager Clint Hurdle.

Then, in the ninth inning, a funny thing happened.

“A baseball game broke out,” Hurdle said.

The Pirates scored four runs, including a two-out, two-run single by Josh Harrison, to tie the score. But in the bottom of the inning, Bryce Harper cracked his first career walkoff homer, a two-out, two-run shot that lifted the Washington Nationals to a 9-7 victory.

“The last thing I wanted to do was give up a home run after the offense battled back,” said reliever Bryan Morris (4-4), who served up the cutter Harper whacked to win it. “It was one of those games when you expect anything and everything.”

The Pirates made three errors in the first inning, leading to three unearned runs. Right-hander A.J. Burnett allowed four hits in the frame, as the Nationals grabbed a 4-0 lead.

“Our worst inning on the field this season,” Hurdle said.

Actually, it's been longer than that. It was the Pirates' first three-error inning since the top of the third on July 4, 2011, against the Houston Astros.

When he got to the dugout, Burnett took out his frustrations on a Gatorade cooler.

“Those (errors) are mistakes that happen,” Burnett said later. “It's not like guys are trying to make it happen. We all turned the page quickly.”

The bundle of blunders was surprising, considering the Pirates entered the game as one of the better defensive teams in the majors.

“They usually don't give the other team any breaks,” Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said. “The important thing was we took advantage of them when we had the chance.”

Burnett drove in a run with a grounder in the fourth inning. In the sixth, Josh Harrison hit a two-run homer that pulled the Pirates within 4-3.

A fiery competitor, Burnett tried to will a comeback. In the fifth, when relievers began to stir in the Pirates' bullpen, Burnett motioned for them to sit down, resulting in a brief confrontation with Hurdle on the dugout steps.

“We were strategizing,” Hurdle said with a sly smile.

“I was under the impression I was done,” Burnett said. “He let me know I wasn't, so I had to turn the switch back on.”

Two innings later, Hurdle was ejected after a strange play at first base. With two outs, Pedro Alvarez legged out an infield single, overran the bag and veered a step toward second base. As Alvarez walked to first, Adam LaRoche got the ball and tagged him. Umpire Laz Diaz called the out, which stunned Alvarez.

“He said there was intent for me to go to second, so I was out,” Alvarez said. “My reaction kind of explains it all. The play was in front of me. I didn't show any intent to go to second.”

First base coach Rick Sofield stepped between Alvarez and Diaz as Hurdle came onto the field. Hurdle was tossed as he addressed Diaz. After the game, Diaz refused to meet with a pool reporter.

The Nationals scored three runs in the eighth, including a two-run triple by LaRoche, to go up 7-3.

In the ninth, Jordy Mercer hit an RBI double, and Russell Martin had a run-scoring single. With the bases loaded and two out, Harrison lined a 2-2 pitch to center field. That scored Mercer and Martin to knot the score.

“I was in (the clubhouse) screaming,” Burnett said. “These guys don't stop.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

Getty Images - Pirates starter A.J. Burnett pitches in the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates starter A.J. Burnett pitches in the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes (right) chases Nationals Bryce Harper towards third base during a rundown in the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates shortstop Clint Barmes (right) chases Nationals Bryce Harper towards third base during a rundown in the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Getty Images - The Nationals' Bryce Harper collides with Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez during a rundown in the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Nationals' Bryce Harper collides with Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez during a rundown in the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Getty Images - Pirates starter A.J. Burnett reacts after giving up a run in the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates starter A.J. Burnett reacts after giving up a run in the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - The Nationals' Bryce Harper (left) collides with Pirates third baseman Pedro Alavarez (center) as shortstop Clint Barmes looks on during the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Nationals' Bryce Harper (left) collides with Pirates third baseman Pedro Alavarez (center) as shortstop Clint Barmes looks on during the first inning on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - The Pirates' Josh Harrison (center) runs toward home plate after hitting a two-run home run off Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez during the sixth inning Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Josh Harrison (center) runs toward home plate after hitting a two-run home run off Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez during the sixth inning Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Getty Images - Pirates starter A.J. Burnett pitches in the second inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates starter A.J. Burnett pitches in the second inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Russell Martin (55) and Jordy Mercer (10) celebrate with Garrett Jones after scoring in the ninth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Russell Martin (55) and Jordy Mercer (10) celebrate with Garrett Jones after scoring in the ninth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Josh Harrison (5) celebrates with Gaby Sanchez after hitting a home run in the sixth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Josh Harrison (5) celebrates with Gaby Sanchez after hitting a home run in the sixth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - The Pirates' Josh Harrison (5) is congratulated by teammates Clint Barmes (12) and Gaby Sanchez (14) after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Pirates' Josh Harrison (5) is congratulated by teammates Clint Barmes (12) and Gaby Sanchez (14) after hitting a two-run home run during the sixth inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
Getty Images - The Pirates' Neil Walker signs autographs before the game against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>The Pirates' Neil Walker signs autographs before the game against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
AP - The Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Pirates at Nationals Park on Thursday, July 25, 2013, in Washington. The Nationals won 9-7 on Harper's ninth-inning home run.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Pirates at Nationals Park on Thursday, July 25, 2013, in Washington. The Nationals won 9-7 on Harper's ninth-inning home run.
AP - The Nationals' Bryce Harper celebrates his game-winning two-run homer as he rounds the bases in the ninth inning against the Pirates on Thursday at Nationals Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>AP</em></div>The Nationals' Bryce Harper celebrates his game-winning two-run homer as he rounds the bases in the ninth inning  against the  Pirates on Thursday at Nationals Park.
Getty Images - Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is thrown out of the game by first base umpire Laz Diaz in the seventh inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is thrown out of the game by first base umpire Laz Diaz in the seventh inning against the Nationals on Thursday, July 25, 2013, at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
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