Jesus Flores’ first homer helped the Nationals beat Pittsburgh 3-2.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Washington Nationals still aren’t generating many runs, but they got just enough offense Sunday. The surprise was that their biggest hit came from one of their least-used players.
Jesus Flores’ first major league homer, a two-run drive in the sixth inning, gave slumping Washington a three-run lead and the Nationals ended a five-game losing streak by holding off the Pittsburgh Pirates 3-2.
Mike Bacsik (2-5) won for the first time since May 24, shutting out the Pirates on three hits until being pulled during a two-run seventh aided by his own throwing error. Bacsik had lost five in a row — he allowed three homers in his previous start — and the Nationals had dropped his last six starts.
Afterward, a relieved Bacsik quoted a writer rarely cited by major leaguers for providing motivation: CBS news anchor Katie Couric, who isn’t generating many numbers herself these days.
“There’s a Katie Couric book I read to my daughter that she loves. One of the lines is something to the effect that if you never felt bad, you wouldn’t know what it’s like to feel good,” Bacsik said. “There have been some outings lately for this team where we haven’t felt good, we’ve felt bad. But this lets us know how good it feels to go out there and compete and win a game.”
Despite winning four of their previous five, the Pirates looked lifeless against a struggling pitcher until Adam LaRoche singled and Jose Castillo doubled to start the seventh. Ronny Paulino reached when Bacsik’s hurried throw on a slow roller to the right of the mound eluded first baseman Dmitri Young.
Bacsik was pulled for Luis Ayala, who gave up sacrifice flies to Jack Wilson and pinch-hitter Ryan Doumit but managed to keep Washington in the lead despite inheriting a bases-loaded, none-out situation.
Jon Rauch, who took the loss as the Pirates rallied from two runs down to win 3-2 Friday, struck out Xavier Nady and Jason Bay during a scoreless eighth. Chad Cordero pitched the ninth for his 14th save in 20 opportunities and 10th in his last 11 attempts.
“Hopefully, it’s our turn to win some games,” said Washington manager Manny Acta, whose team had lost 11 of 14.
It was another off day for the slumping Bay, an All-Star starter a year ago who was hitting .314 a month ago Sunday but is down to .262. He was given the night off Saturday — the first game he’s missed this season and only the fourth in three seasons — but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts Sunday. He also drew some boos when he couldn’t reach a fly-ball single by Flores in the third that dropped a stride to his right.
The Flores hit that did the most damage was the homer. After Robert Fick singled with two outs to keep the inning going, Flores — in only his 63rd career at-bat — lofted a fly ball to left that appeared to skip off the hands of a fan leaning over the wall and into the seats.
Pirates pitcher Paul Maholm (4-11) gestured immediately that the fan interfered with the ball, but manager Jim Tracy didn’t bother to argue.
“Jason Bay said it was in the stands,” Tracy said afterward.
Flores, a rookie catcher who is hitting .219, went down to get a slider that Maholm was supposed to throw in the dirt but instead left over the plate.
“I said, ‘Thank you’ to him to put it in the middle of the plate where I could get it,” said Flores, who started only because catcher Brian Schneider got a day off.
The Nationals got the home run ball for him, which pleased Flores even more.
“It’s something that’s special to keep, no?” he said.
Adding a run
Washington, which has scored only 25 runs in its last 11 games, got a run in the fourth against Maholm on consecutive singles by Dmitri Young, Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez and Fick’s run-scoring groundout.
Maholm lasted at least seven innings for the fourth consecutive start, giving up nine hits and three runs.
“One stupid pitch and I cost us the game,” Maholm said. “It’s hard to take. One pitch changed the whole game. And it probably wasn’t the right pitch in that situation.”
Despite sunny skies, the game drew only 19,149 on the first Sunday in July — perhaps a better indicator of the Pirates’ fan discontent than the organized walkout Saturday night that drew little support. The Pirates, 35-46 halfway through the season, are on pace for a 15th consecutive losing season.
Bay underwent left knee surgery during the offseason, but the Pirates have not said if there is any ongoing problem or if Bay has any new injury. ... The Nationals are 33-48, the same record they had halfway through last season. ... The Pirates won the season series 4-2, the first time they’ve done so against the former Montreal Expos franchise since 2000. ... LaRoche had three of the Pirates’ six hits, giving him 10 in his last five games. ... Nady, batting third for the first time this season, went 1-for-4 with a double.