Harper's homer snaps Pirates' win streak

Rob Biertempfel
| 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.

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