Friday, May 11, 2012

Game 31: Pirates vs. Nationals Recap

Expectations were low. After all, Stephen Strasburg was taking the mound facing the same team that he made his Major League debut against. A game in which he struck out 14 batters which still stands as his career high. As if that wasn't bad enough, he was facing Kevin Correia who has been the worst pitcher on the Pittsburgh Pirates' staff since post-All-Star break last season. But as events play out, expectations often change. Unfortunately, the expected result didn't.

Strasburg was an absolute machine in the early innings. Starting with Andrew McCutchen in the first inning, he went on a string of striking out seven consecutive Pirates' batters. Jose Tabata was about the only Pirate that did not look overmatched for most of the ballgame so it was fitting that he broke up that stretch with a single in the fourth inning. After being sacrificed to second, Tabata scored on a single by McCutchen who advanced to second when Bryce Harper made a poor decision to go home with the throw. That allowed Neil Walker to drive in McCutchen with a single later in the inning.

All was well in the world. The Pirates had a multiple run lead against the biggest phenom in the league. Even Correia was doing his part by throwing five relatively clean innings. But his typical mistakes hurt him badly in the sixth. Roger Bernadina led off the inning with a solo home run to cut the lead in half. Then for the second time this series, Adam LaRoche hit a two run home run to give the Washington Nationals the lead.

Unlike Tuesday night, Rod Barajas wasn't in the lineup to hit a walk off home run to cancel out LaRoche's heroics. Instead, Rick Ankiel extended the lead to two with a solo home run off of Chris Resop in the ninth. The Pirates' best opportunity to recapture the lead came in the sixth but they squandered it. Strasburg walked three straight batters for the first time in his career to load the bases with two outs. Garrett Jones came to the plate and inexplicably swung at the first pitch which would have been a ball. Jones ultimately struck out for the third time in the game to end the threat.

No one is going to complain with taking two out of three from a team with one of the best records in baseball but the chance for a sweep was there and they blew it. However, a more realistic chance at a sweep could be coming over the weekend. After a brutal schedule to start the season, the Pirates will get a chance to play an inferior opponent in the Houston Astros.

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