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Nationals rally against Pirates' bullpen

| Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, 10:12 p.m.
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The Nationals' Bryce Harper rounds third base and scores the winning run in the ninth inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Nationals' Wilson Ramos gets dunked by Ian Desmond after beating the Pirates with a ninth-inning, walk-off double Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke throws during the first inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Nationals' Ian Desmond is tagged out at second base by Pirates shortstop Josh Harrison (5) on a steal attempt during the second inning Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Nationals' Wilson Ramos is mobbed by teammates after driving in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Pirates' Starling Marte breaks his bat as he hits an RBI single during the third inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Pirates' Starling Marte (6) celebrates with his teammates after scoring during the third inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Nationals' Danny Espinosa (8) reacts after striking out as Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) stands during the fifth inning Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Pirates' Josh Harrison hits a single in the third inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Nationals' Wilson Ramos celebrates after driving in the winning run in the ninth inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Pirates' Starling Marte celebrates with Pedro Alvarez after scoring in the third inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Pirates' Jeff Locke pitches in the first inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
The Nationals' Wilson Ramos hits the winning ground-rule double to score Bryce Harper during the ninth inning against the Pirates on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Pirates' Pedro Alvarez argues with home plate umpire Mark Wegner after being called out on strikes in the fifth inning against the Nationals on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.
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The Nationals' Ian Desmond forces out the Pirates' Gaby Sanchez to start a double play in the eighth inning Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Washington.

WASHINGTON — In baseball, success can have a short shelf life.

Two of the Pirates' usually reliable back-end relievers were knocked around Saturday night in a 4-3 loss against the Washington Nationals.

Tony Watson was stung by a too-familiar pitch sequence. Justin Wilson was done in by poor location.

“We weren't sharp at the end,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

Watson tossed a scoreless inning Friday, starting with a groundout by Nationals slugger Adam LaRoche. Watson got LaRoche with a slider away followed by an inside fastball.

In the eighth inning Saturday, Watson again faced LaRoche. This time, the Pirates were clinging to a two-run lead, and the Nationals had a runner on third base.

Watson threw a slider away, and LaRoche took it for ball one. Watson came back with an inside fastball, and LaRoche whacked it over the right-field wall. The home run tied the game.

“It seemed like he was geared up for the heater there,” Watson said.

In the ninth, Bryce Harper drew a leadoff walk from Wilson (3-3) then went to second on a wild pitch. Wilson Ramos drove a fastball over the head of right fielder Gregory Polanco for a walkoff double.

“Missed my spots,” Wilson said. “I was trying to go in, but it stayed out over the plate. Good job of hitting by him.”

Pirates starter Jeff Locke tossed 5 23 scoreless innings, allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six. He wound up the victim of a blown save for the fifth time in 14 starts.

“It's not frustrating,” Locke said. “Last year the bullpen won me a ton of games. Those guys have done great all year, and they'll continue to do that.”

With one out in the third, Josh Harrison singled off Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez. That snapped an 0-for-13 skid, Harrison's longest hitting drought this season.

Polanco bounced into a fielder's choice, forcing Harrison at second.

Over the next eight pitches, the Pirates grabbed a 3-0 lead. Russell Martin drew a full-count walk. Starling Marte lashed a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner for an RBI double. Gaby Sanchez jumped on the next pitch, another 92 mph fastball, for a two-run single.

Scoring all their runs in a single inning is becoming a bad habit for the Pirates. After Gonzalez left the game, they managed only one hit and grounded into a pair of double plays over the final four innings.

Watson gave up three runs in the eighth, ending his run of nine scoreless outings. Pinch-hitter Michael Taylor drew a leadoff walk and scored on Kevin Frandsen's single. With two outs, LaRoche hit the game-tying homer.

Wilson had not given up a run in five straight appearances when he took the mound in the ninth. He walked Harper on six pitches then spiked a cutter that let Harper sprint to second. That set up Ramos' game-winner.

“I can't give Harper a free pass there,” Wilson said. “If I do that, the double doesn't hurt me.”

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

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