WASHINGTON -- The longest regular-season game in Nationals history -- and the second longest in the Majors this season -- ended up as a 2-1 win for the Pirates after Starling Marte hit a solo homer in the 18th inning on Sunday at Nationals Park. The victory by Pittsburgh ended Washington's five-game winning streak. The Nats are now six games ahead of the Marlins and Mets in the National League East race.
"Too many innings, we were tired, it was time for a home run," Marte said through an interpreter.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker blamed himself for the loss. He was planning to intentionally walk Marte to face pitcher Jonathon Niese, but before he could get catcher Wilson Ramos' attention, Marte hit his seventh home run of the season.
"At the end of the game, I saw Niese on deck," Baker said. "That was my fault because I didn't put the fingers up to walk him. Before I could, he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark. I knew they were out of men. … It hurts to make a mistake like that. I was aware of the situation. Before I could get Wilson's attention -- I said it to [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux], 'We have Niese on deck.' Before [Maddux] could respond, Marte hit the ball out of the ballpark."
The Nationals, who tied the game in the ninth on pinch-hitter Daniel Murphy's home run with two outs, used eight pitchers. The eighth was left-hander Oliver Perez, who allowed the mammoth blast by Marte out to the left-field seats with two outs.
The Pirates scored their first run of the game in the sixth inning off right-hander Max Scherzer. Adam Frazier led off the inning with a double and scored on a double by Marte. Scherzer ended up pitching seven innings, allowing the one run on six hits while striking out seven.
Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl was just as good on the mound in the rookie's best game of the season. He pitched six shutout innings and allowed one hit, which came from Ben Revere in the first inning. After that, he retired the next 14 hitters he faced.
The Nationals were down to their last out of the game when Murphy came to the plate as a pinch-hitter and hit a solo home run against closer Mark Melancon. It was Murphy's fourth pinch-hit homer of his career. The last time he hit a pinch-hit homer was in 2011 against then-Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard.
The Pirates' bullpen was fantastic, allowing one run in 12 innings. Juan Nicasio threw three scoreless innings, as did winning pitcher Niese, who was demoted to the bullpen Friday and had thrown two innings Saturday. Niese pitched only because manager Clint Hurdle had used all his other relief pitchers.
"That's crazy," Hurdle said of Niese's back-to-back outings. "That's not how I would've drawn it up. It was out of necessity."
Hurdle praised his club for playing hard through all 18 innings, despite having lost the first two games of the series and blowing the lead in the ninth Sunday.
"I just love the grit of our club," Hurdle said. "I don't know if [a game like this] builds character, but it definitely reveals character. You've got to keep playing."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Marte party: Marte's game-winning homer was his third hit of the game and gave him his second RBI on the day. Marte also got the job done on defense, collecting an outfield assist when Trea Turner attempted to turn a single into a double in the 17th. More >
"I believe this is great motivation for the rest of the season," he said. "It shows that we're together, we're here to fight, we're here to fight for a win, and that's just who we are."
Perfect relay: The Pirates almost took the lead in the 16th, when Josh Harrison hit a deep fly ball out to center with two outs and Eric Fryer on first. Fryer attempted to score on the play, but center fielder Michael Taylor fielded the ball off the wall and fired it to shortstop Danny Espinosa, who made a great throw to Ramos for the inning-ending out.
Kuhl-headed: Kuhl lowered his ERA from 6.08 to 4.19 with an impressive outing in his fourth big league start. The rookie right-hander displayed great command against the Nationals, walking none. Hurdle pulled Kuhl for a pinch-hitter in the seventh despite him having thrown only 85 pitches.
"It was the start we need out of him, and it was the start he expected of himself, more like what we've seen in the Minor League system," Hurdle said.
Baserunning mistakes hurt Washington: With Scherzer at the plate in the sixth inning, Espinosa was thrown out trying to steal second base. As it turned out, according to Baker, a sign was missed. Baker did not say who was at fault between Scherzer and Espinosa.
In the 17th inning, Turner singled to left field. He saw that Marte was slow getting to the ball, so he decided to take the extra base, but Marte's throw beat him to the bag for the first out of the inning. Turner knew he made a mistake.
"I wanted to be aggressive and take a chance. Looking back at it, obviously a dumb play, because it didn't work out," Turner said. "That's baseball. You learn from it and you move on."
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Pirates were two-for-two on challenges Sunday, turning a pair of stolen-base calls in their favor. The first challenge came in the top of the sixth, when Marte was called out trying to swipe third. After review, the call was overturned. In the bottom of the inning, Espinosa was called safe on the stolen-base attempt where the sign was missed, but that call was also overturned.
WHAT'S NEXT Pirates: The Pirates have an off-day Monday, then return to Pittsburgh to face the Brewers on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. ET. In the first game of that series, they'll start rookie Jameson Taillon, who is coming off the disabled list after missing three weeks with arm fatigue. Taillon, the Pirates' No. 4 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, had a 3.86 ERA in 28 big league innings before going on the DL.
Nationals: The Nationals have an off-day on Monday before opening a three-game series against the Dodgers on Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. Fifth-ranked prospect Reynaldo Lopez will make his debut. The 22-year-old right-hander has struck out 109 in 87 1/3 Minor League innings this year and also appeared in the Futures Game.