The Pirates had been unbeatable this season when they took a lead into the ninth inning.
That changed Saturday because of the unlikeliest of double steals.
Tyler Moore’s sacrifice fly off Tony Watson (1-1) in the ninth scored Ryan Zimmerman, who earlier in the at-bat had stolen third while Adam LaRoche took second, to give the Washington Nationals a 5-4 win Saturday.
Zimmerman and LaRoche had combined for 36 steals in 2,219 games and none this season when they took off and got good enough jumps that Pirates catcher Russell Martin didn’t even bother throwing.
“We know who has what times [to the plate], what guys are slow and what guys are fast and what guys give a guy like me an actual chance to steal a base,” said Zimmerman, whose steal of third was the first of his career.
“When you’re looking at a pitcher that takes 1.8-2.0 seconds to get the ball to the plate, I should be able to steal off him.”
Even Moore quipped, “I thought those would be the last two guys ever to have a double steal.” Apparently, the Pirates thought so, too.
“Even if I make a great throw, I don’t even know if I have time because I thought he had a really good jump,” Martin said. “In that situation, it’s more them doing something special than us doing something wrong.”
The Pirates saw a 4-2 lead evaporate in the sixth on Wilson Ramos’ two-run single. That was critical, because Pittsburgh is 12-0 when leading after six innings this season and hasn’t blown a lead at any time after the sixth.
But with the game tied, manager Clint Hurdle resisted using Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli, against whom opponents combine to hit .163.
“Grilli’s not going to pitch in certain situations when the game’s tied at home in the ninth inning just because of the usage that we want to make sure we monitor,” Hurdle said. “Melancon is only going to pitch right now when we’re ahead in the eighth inning.”
Instead, Justin Wilson allowed Ramos’ tying hit in the sixth. Watson hit Zimmerman with a pitch and allowed a single to LaRoche before allowing them to steal and serving up a sinker that Moore lifted deep into the right field corner.
“The way we were set up we wanted to get two innings out of Watson. ...” Hurdle said. “If we don’t go (to a long reliever), we’ve got to go to Melancon or Grilli next, and we’re not going to do that right now.”
Washington’s Stephen Strasburg struck out eight in seven innings and the Nationals won one of his outings for the first time since opening day.
Strasburg remained winless since his first start, though. He allowed four runs and five hits — all of Pittsburgh’s offense coming on two-run homers by Starling Marte and Clint Barmes.