WASHINGTON -- The Nationals and Pirates closed out the 2017 regular season with an 11-8 Pittsburgh victory on Sunday afternoon in Washington.
It was the final tuneup for the Nationals (97-65) before they begin the National League Division Series against the Cubs on Friday at Nationals Park. Manager Dusty Baker gave some of his veteran players a chance to be cheered by the 35,652 fans at Nationals Park as they were subbed from the game.
Ryan Zimmerman, who just completed a resurgent 2017 season, was removed from the game to start the fourth inning. Anthony Rendon, the Nationals' leading candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award, was subbed from third base to start the fifth. Gio Gonzalez, who despite a shaky finish put together a strong bounce-back season, was pulled to a standing ovation in the middle of the fifth. Bryce Harper left the game in the eighth inning, leaving Jayson Werth as the final veteran position player in the game.
"[The fans] showed their appreciation for all of our effort and excellence," Baker said. "We had a good season. We're trying to approach a great season."
The game set records for both clubs, though perhaps not in a way they wanted or expected. The four-hour, 22-minute affair was the longest regular-season, nine-inning game in both Pirates and Nationals history.
"It's cool that we won," said Pirates first baseman Josh Bell, who drove in his 90th run of the season on an eighth-inning single. "If we'd come out losing that game, as long as it was, looking back at the scoreboard in right field and seeing all the scores of the other ballgames finishing after starting at the exact same time that we started ... it was definitely fun winning. It would have been a different feeling if we had lost."
The Pirates erupted for 11 runs on 14 hits to finish the season at 75-87, their second straight losing year. One of the bright spots of Pittsburgh's season was the development of the club's young starting pitching, including left-hander Steven Brault. But Brault struggled in Sunday's season finale, allowing four runs on six hits and four walks in two-plus innings.
"It was a wild ride. It's obviously not the start I wanted to end the season," Brault said. "You're bound to blow up once, right? I had a pretty successful year where I didn't have to go through that much. It's too bad it had to happen the last game, but my team picked me up, so I can't be upset about it."
The Pirates now face an uncertain offseason, looking to improve their standing in the National League Central while potentially carrying much of the same roster into next year. The spotlight, as always, will shine brightest on Andrew McCutchen, the subject of trade speculation last season. McCutchen's season ended with a double in the fifth inning; Sean Rodriguez replaced him as a pinch-runner.
"People appreciate a guy who plays hard. People appreciate elite players," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They do here in Washington. They gave each one of their players who came off a nice ovation. This is one of the parks that Andrew has shown up in very well over the years offensively and done some really fun things to watch. I'm sure they were appreciative of that."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Five in the 1st: Pittsburgh jumped Gonzalez for five runs in the first inning, taking advantage of his lack of command to get out to an early lead. Gonzalez issued a pair of walks and hit a batter and the Pirates collected three hits, highlighted by a three-run double from Max Moroff.
Werth the sendoff: The Nationals showed how much they appreciated Werth, who was playing in perhaps his final regular-season game at Nationals Park. They showed a video montage of his seven seasons in Washington on the video board in the first inning with the theme song from "Game of Thrones," one of Werth's favorite TV shows and his walk-up music, playing in the background.
"That was probably the nicest thing any organization's done for me," Werth said. "I appreciate that. And thank the Nationals. They've been a class organization from start to finish here. ... I'm not ruling out that I won't be back here next year. But nothing's guaranteed in this game. I learned a long time ago you can't take anything for granted. I appreciate the fans' appreciation and them hanging in there today."
In the eighth inning, before Werth took his final at-bat, he tipped his helmet to the crowd. He just missed hitting a home run, too, driving a pitch to the warning track in center field, but Starling Marte tracked it down to make the catch.
Werth received his own sendoff in the top of the ninth inning after he took his position in left field before Victor Robles came into the game to replace him. Werth received another standing ovation and tipped his cap to the crowd before he was greeted at the top of the dugout steps by Harper with the Nationals' dugout applauding.
"He might never play left field after this year ever again here," Harper said. "He's definitely going to be missed, not only by me, but the fans as well."
"When I came here, when I signed here, it was a joke. But this place isn't a joke. This has been one of the best teams in baseball since I signed here, and I'm definitely proud of that," Werth, reflecting on his seven years in Washington
"Before this start, I felt great. It was awesome. I felt like I actually did something. Then today's game, I did nothing. Took a couple steps back." Gonzalez, on his 2017 season
"It was crazy from the start to finish. We start with five and we're rolling, they come back with three. We're looking at the end of the first inning, and both teams have got somebody up in the bullpen. ... So many people played. A lot of cool things were able to happen at the end for some individuals here and for us to win our last game together as a unit." --Hurdle, on the long end to the 162-game season
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Called upon to record the final out in a long ninth inning, right-hander George Kontos earned the first save of his seven-year Major League career. Rookie right-hander Angel Sanchez, who pitched two scoreless innings, earned his first big league win.
The Pirates committed two errors in the ninth inning to finish with 99 on the year. It was the third time in their 131-year history that the Bucs ended a season with fewer than 100 errors, not counting the strike seasons of 1981 and '94.
AFTER FURTHER REVIEW
Nationals third baseman Adrian Sanchez initially was ruled out on a grounder to second base to begin the sixth inning, but the call was overturned and Sanchez was credited with an infield single.
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: The Nationals host the Cubs for Game 1 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, which begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Nationals Park.