Game #32 Recap: Harper Ejected as Gio shakes early struggles

Phenom Bryce Harper was ejected in the first inning of today’s contest as the Nationals took the series in today’s 6-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.  

Before the Nats could even take the field, Harper was done for the day.  The left fielder, who has been battling rib cage injuries this past week, struck out on a 2-2 checked swing call.  Harper believed he pulled the bat back in time, but an appeal to third base umpire John Hirschbeck resulted in the young lefty being ruled out.

Harper stepped out of the box and looked at Hirschbeck in disbelief, at which point the umpire threw his hands up in the air and walked towards Harper, telling him to get back into the dugout.  As Harper turned to leave the field, he threw his helmet on the ground, apparently giving Hirschbeck enough reason to eject him from the game.  Backup outfielder Roger ‘Shark’ Bernadina took over for the Harper and batted third for the remainder of the game while manning left field.  

Nats starter Gio Gonzalez shook off early troubles and pitched six innings while only allowing two runs.  Opposing pitcher Wandy Rodriguez made the Nats bats work, but proved to be no match against a lineup that is just starting to show consistent signs of life.  Rodriguez also went six innings deep and struck out seven while allowing three runs.

Things did not look good for Gio when Pirates leadoff man Starling Marte crushed the first pitch of the game into the left field stands to give the Bucs an early 1-0 lead for the home crowd.  Two pitches later, second baseman Jordy Mercer smoked a 92-MPH fastball into center for a double.  

A throwing error by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, his fifth error of the year, allowed Andrew McCutchen to reach base.  A four-pitch walk to Bucs first baseman Gaby Sanchez would load the bases with no one out.  

The struggles of Gonzalez brought Nationals pitching coach Steve McCatty to the mound to calm the wild lefty down.  After the visit to the mound, Gonzalez looked like a different pitcher, battling back to get out of the inning unscathed while notching two strikeouts.   

The Nats offense responded immediately in the top of the second.  Zimmerman worked a walk to leadoff the inning.  A double off the bat of first baseman Adam LaRoche but runners on second and third with nobody out.  A deep sac fly from second baseman Danny Espinosa tied the score at 1-1.  Zimmerman would score the only run of the inning.  

Gio found his stride after the rough first inning and cruised through the next two frames, only allowing one Buc Baserunner in each inning.  

Rodriguez also shut down the Nats until running into trouble in the fourth inning – again off the bat of Espinosa.  Following a leadoff single from Zimmerman, Espinosa launched a 2-2 pitch to left field – pushing the Nats lead to 3-1.  Washington would keep the lead for the rest of the game.  

But the Bucs trimmed the Nats lead in the sixth inning as a Russell Martin double scored Gaby Sanchez – who led off the inning with a single.  

Gio stranded Martin on second base as he fought back to shutdown the potential Pirates rally.  The sixth inning would be Gonzalez’s last, having thrown 102 pitches.

Rodriguez would not return for the seventh inning either, being lifted for veteran Jose Contreras.  

The Nats and Bucs offenses would go quietly in the seventh inning.  

But the Nationals erupted again in the eighth inning courtesy of a three-run home run by the struggling Tyler Moore.  The no-doubter scored Bernadina and LaRoche, making the score 6-2 Nats.  LaRoche, who has been warming up recently, was intentionally walked by righty reliever Bryan Morris in order to face the right-handed Moore and set up a double play situation.  But  Moore made Morris and the Pirates pay for the decision.  

Closer Rafael Soriano pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the Nats even though it was not a save situation.  Although allowing a double to Bucs mega-utility man Brandon Inge, Soriano finished off the game and secured a curly W for Washington.