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Hot-hitting Harrison, Pirates beat Nationals for 4th straight victory

| Saturday, May 24, 2014, 10:27 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Mark Melancon celebrates with catcher Russell Martin after closing out the Nationals Saturday, May 24, 2014, at PNC Park.

Ace pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg caught everyone's attention Saturday, but an unheralded trio of Pirates — Josh Harrison, Jose Tabata and Jared Hughes — stole the show.

Harrison and Tabata drove in key runs off Strasburg in the seventh inning, and Hughes got three huge outs to push the Pirates past the Washington Nationals, 3-2, for their fourth consecutive victory.

In front of a sellout crowd of 38,889, the showdown between right-handers Strasburg and Cole — former No. 1 overall draft picks — lived up to its hype.

“Sold out, Saturday night, a beautiful day,” Cole said. “Can you ask for anything more?”

Cole threw a career-high 112 pitches, and he pitched two more innings after tweaking his right ankle in the fourth. He yielded five hits and three walks and got seven strikeouts, then left the game with the Pirates trailing 2-1.

“A very gritty outing,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “Gerrit just kept after it. He loves to compete.”

Strasburg (3-4) was more efficient with his pitches, and he had a devastating changeup early in the game. He went seven innings and allowed three runs, seven hits and two walks. He struck out seven.

Hughes (3-1) replaced Cole to start the seventh inning and faced the heart of Washington's order. Anthony Rendon fouled out. Jayson Werth and cleanup hitter Wilson Ramos grounded out.

“After that, the momentum was good going into the dugout,” Hughes said. “We don't look at the hype (of Cole versus Strasburg). We just want to get the job done.”

Russell Martin led off the bottom of the inning with a single and went to third on Starling Marte's double.

“The pitch that hurt me was I tried to bury a curveball to Marte and didn't,” Strasburg said. “He put a good swing on it.”

Bench coach Jeff Banister recalled seeing Tabata get two hits off Strasburg a couple of years ago in the Arizona Fall League. So with one out, Hurdle opted to use Tabata as a pinch hitter even though Tabata's 60 percent ground ball rate makes him a double-play candidate.

“I remembered those at-bats from before, and I told myself, ‘I know how he throws,' ” Tabata said. “He threw me two fastballs in, and I thought he might come with a breaking ball. I stayed inside it and hit it in the air.”

The sacrifice fly to center field scored Martin to tie it. Travis Snider pinch hit for Hughes and was intentionally walked.

With a 1-0 count against Harrison, Strasburg's changeup let him down.

Harrison grounded it into center field for a single. Marte scored, touching home plate an instant before Snider was thrown out at third base.

“I had three at-bats against him, and I had seen everything he throws,” said Harrison, who's hitting .324 (11 for 34) over his past 10 games. “When I went up the fourth time, I was just looking to barrel something up.”

The two teams traded solo homers in the fourth inning. Ian Desmond went deep for the Nationals.

Neil Walker tied it with his 10th homer of the season. He drove a sinker into the Nationals' bullpen for the first hit of the game off Strasburg.

Cole rolled his right ankle while on the mound in the fourth inning.

“I just tweaked it trying to get over (to cover first) on a ground ball,” Cole said. “It was a non-issue.”

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

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