Pirates 5, Nationals 3
James McDonald tried a different approach in the bullpen. Garrett Jones figured it was finally time to go long against a lefty.
McDonald ate up innings - the way a first-game starter is supposed to do - and Jones put his team ahead for good with a home run in the eighth Saturday as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Washington Nationals 5-3 in the opening game of their first doubleheader in the nation's capital since the 19th Century.
Jones and Andrew McCutchen took Sean Burnett (3-5) deep back-to-back as the Pirates moved two games over .500 for the eighth time this season. They had yet to make it to three games over, but they would try to get there again in the nightcap of Pittsburgh's first twin-bill in Washington since they split with an early incantation of the National League Senators at Boundary Field on May 19, 1899.
Jones entered the game hitting .129 against lefties, with no homers and two RBIs. He said he needs to start hitting the ball where it's pitched - and he did just that by going the opposite way and putting one into the red seats in left center.
''It definitely feels good to get one off a lefty. I've been struggling off them,'' Jones said. ''I saw the ball well today, just trying to make strides and stay close and stay in a big part of the field, stay up the middle and left-center off the lefty - and was able to stay on that one good.''
McDonald and Nationals starter Livan Hernandez dominated much of the game, combining for 13 strikeouts and six 1-2-3 innings. McDonald allowed two runs and seven hits over 6 1-3 innings before giving way to Jose Veras (2-2), who pitched 1 2-3 innings to get the win.
''My preparation was a little different this time. My 'pen was a lot more focused, more game-like attitude to bear down on hitters and get that feel going,'' said McDonald, who decided on the new approach after a talk with pitching coach Ray Searage. ''I feel like I carried my bullpen out to the game.''
Joel Hanrahan gave up one run in the ninth but still got his 24th save in 24 chances this season, tying the club record for consecutive saves opportunities converted.
Hernandez allowed two runs and six hits over seven innings - including the first earned runs allowed by Washington's pitching staff in three games - but Burnett entered and uncharacteristically gave up the long ball. He had allowed only one home run in 27 2-3 innings before Jones and McCutchen went deep.
''He looked like he was throwing really good, but he wasn't locating that good,'' said Davey Johnson, who dropped to 1-4 as Washington's manager. ''You can't leave the ball over the middle of the plate with a guy like Jones.''
Rick Ankiel tied the game at 2 with a pinch-hit homer, his second home run of the season and his first since the second game of the season.
NOTES: The Pirates placed SS Ronny Cedeno on the 7-day concussion disabled list. He was injured trying to break up a double play in Friday's game. Pittsburgh recalled INF Pedro Ciriaco from Triple-A Indianapolis. ... Pittsburgh then recalled RHP Brad Lincoln from Indianapolis to start the second game of the doubleheader. RHP Tim Wood was optioned to Triple A. ... Pirates OF Xavier Paul, who had missed the last three games with tightness in his right hamstring, entered the game in the eighth inning. ... After Friday night's win, Johnson asked reporters for directions to his new home in the nation's capital, having yet to make the drive there from Nationals Park. Asked on Saturday if the trip went OK, he said it did - despite an apparent wrong turn on an interstate. That led to a long discussion about the city's notorious traffic. ''If push comes to shove,'' he concluded, ''I really know how to walk out there and get a cab.'' ... Pirates manager Clint Hurdle offered an amusing story about playing for Johnson in the minors in Norfolk. ''In the first game, the third baseman broke his hand and he looked in the dugout and asked me if I ever played third base,'' Hurdle said. ''And I said 'Absolutely.' So I played the second game at third base, and about three days later he called me into the office and said, 'You've never played third base in your life, have you?' 'Absolutely not.''' Nevertheless, Johnson kept Hurdle at third, and Hurdle said it helped re-ignite his career. ''We took infield every day, just mainly for Clint,'' Johnson said. ... When 43-year-old Matt Stairs singled in the ninth inning Friday, he became the oldest player to drive in a game-ending run since Graig Nettles (also 43) for the Montreal Expos in 1988. ... Nationals reliever Henry Rodriguez was unavailable because of strep throat.