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Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

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Nats fail to execute in 2-1 loss

They'd been in this situation plenty of times already this season, locked into a tense, low-scoring affair that would be decided by one big hit.

"We've played a million one-run games," Ryan Zimmerman said. "So it's not really anything big."

And yet after watching the Nationals fail at the plate on several occasions during Friday night's 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Orioles, it would be easy to question whether this lineup was getting caught up in the moment and trying too hard to make something happen.

There were just too many instances of poor execution, whether in the form of fouled-off bunt attempts, a botched hit-and-run or watching strike three whisk by right down the heart of the plate to think otherwise.

"We get in that situation, and we get a little over-anxious," manager Davey Johnson said. "Just trying too hard, the way I figure it, and not letting them come to us."

The opener of the most-anticipated Battle of the Beltways since the series commenced in 2006 lived up to the hype, with an energetic crowd of 36,680 on hand. Two upper-division clubs that have enjoyed success this season behind stellar pitching got a couple more dominant performances from their hurlers, with Baltimore's Jake Arrieta allowing one run over seven innings and Washington's Edwin Jackson doing his counterpart one better and making it through the eighth.

Ultimately, Nick Markakis' towering homer off Ryan Mattheus in the top of the 11th -- it struck the facing of the second deck down the right-field line -- decided this one, a tough blow for a Nationals pitching staff that had hung on all night to that point.

"I made a bad pitch," Mattheus said of his 2-2 slider down and in to Markakis. "He's a good hitter, and that's what good hitters do with bad pitches."

Mattheus, though, might never have found himself in that situation had the Nationals lineup managed to push across just one more run at any point during the previous 10 innings.

They didn't have many opportunities against Arrieta and four Orioles relievers, but what opportunities they did have were mostly squandered. Only Ian Desmond's solo homer in the sixth resulted in a run for the home team.

The Nationals went 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. They weren't much better with a man on first base, either.

Such was the case in the bottom of the fifth, when Johnson called for a hit-and-run with Jackson at the plate and slow-footed catcher Jesus Flores on first. Jackson whiffed at Arrieta's pitch, and Matt Wieters easily gunned down Flores to kill that potential rally.

Was Jackson surprised to get the hit-and-run sign in that situation?

"Not really," the right-hander insisted. "The managers that I've played for, they've been pretty aggressive, especially Arizona's Kirk Gibson and St. Louis' Tony LaRussa. If a pitcher can halfway handle the bat, they'll put the hit-and-run on."

The poor execution continued in the seventh, when Bryce Harper led off with a single and Johnson decided to ask Danny Espinosa to bunt the rookie over to second base. Except Espinosa took one pitch for a strike, then twice bunted foul, sent back to the dugout after the final one.

"You try and you work on it every day as far as bunting, and sometimes it's not the easiest thing in the world to do," Espinosa said. "I know everyone thinks it is, but when you've got a guy throwing hard and the ball comes up and in, you want to bunt it. At the same time, you're trying to just protect yourself and move, and you foul it off."

By the time the bottom of the 11th rolled around, the Nationals were trailing and facing their last chance. They did give themselves a chance, though. Pinch-hitter Steve Lombardozzi was plunked by Orioles reliever Pedro Strop to begin the inning, only to be wiped out on Desmond's double-play grounder.

Now down to their final out, the Nationals still had one last-ditch shot when Roger Bernadina struck out on a pitch that wound up at the backstop and reached on the wild pitch. Zimmerman followed with a single up the middle, putting the tying runner in scoring position for cleanup hitter Adam LaRoche.

LaRoche has been the Nationals' most-productive, and most-consistent hitter, but he capped off perhaps his worst night of the season when he weakly tapped the ball back to the mound for the game's final out, completing an 0-for-5 night in which he never hit the ball out of the infield.

"We had chances," Johnson said. "And then our inability to get a bunt down, and bunting bad pitches ... a game like that's frustrating. We don't have to try to force on the execution of a bunt.

"That was a tough one. We pitched good. I thought the bullpen pitched good. One pitch, ballgame."

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Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

Nationals rally against Rivero, beat Pirates 10-7

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The tag was clearly fake. What happened next was all too real for the NL East champion Washington Nationals: Bryce Harper got hurt and needs X-rays.

Harper injured his left thumb making an awkward slide to avoid a pretend tag by Pittsburgh third baseman Jung Ho Kang, and the teams later cleared the benches Sunday in Washington's 10-7 win.

Nationals manager Dusty Baker said Harper was "sore" and would have X-rays on Monday. The reigning NL MVP had surgery to repair a torn ligament in the same thumb in 2014.

Harper led off the third inning with a triple. As he neared third, Kang acted as if a throw was coming and feigned a tag.

Harper went down, was checked by a trainer and stayed in. He scored on Anthony Rendon's double and was replaced in the field in the bottom half by Chris Heisey.

Kang insisted he merely intended to keep Harper from scoring when right fielder Josh Bell's throw was way off line.

"First of all, I meant no harm," Kang said through a translator. "During the relay play, I tried to hold the runner on third base. That's all I tried to do."

The next time Kang came up, Nationals starter A.J. Cole threw a fastball behind him and was immediately ejected by plate umpire Jordan Baker as the benches emptied.

Cole said he was trying to pitch inside to Kang. Baker said the entire situation wasn't ideal for a team that is focusing on a playoff run.

"We don't want guys suspended," Baker said. "But you know, boys will be boys, and you've still got to defend your teammates."

Washington's Jayson Werth was in the middle of the skirmish. Pirates outfielder Sean Rodriguez was ejected.

"I was very surprised I was the only one ejected considering," Rodriguez said. "I got blamed for being the one that instigated, but you can watch the film yourself."

Werth had a pinch-hit, two-run homer and Heisey had a go-ahead single during a five-run burst in the eighth. The Nationals' rally came against former teammate Felipe Rivero (1-5).

Rivero had allowed just four earned runs in his previous 25 innings since being traded from Washington to the Pirates.

Kang hit a two-run homer off Koda Glover to give the Pirates the lead in the seventh.

Shawn Kelley (3-2) wound up with the win. Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless ninth for his 43rd save.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: C Francisco Cervelli did not play after taking a foul ball off his wrist Saturday. ... RHP Neftali Feliz (arm) threw off flat ground but is not yet ready for a return to the mound.

UP NEXT

Nationals: Tanner Roark (15-9 2.70 ERA) had his start pushed back one day after the Nationals clinched the NL East on Saturday night. He'll looking for his career-best 16th win as Washington hosts Arizona for a four-game series.

Pirates: Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA) will start as Pittsburgh begins a four-game series against the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs. Kuhl has allowed seven earned runs in 7 1/3 innings in his two previous starts against Chicago this season.

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Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

Benches clear in confrontation between Nats and Pirates

With the division title clinched the night before, it seemed the Nationals were poised for an uneventful series finale against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. 

That wasn't to be, as the two clubs engaged in a benches clearing altercation in the bottom of the third inning. The tension started in the top of the frame, when Bryce Harper was injured while sliding to third base on a triple. The Nats took exception to Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang faking a tag on Harper, which may have led to the injury. 

So when Nats starter A.J. Cole threw behind Kang in the bottom of the inning, the near-fracas was ignited.

Cole was immediately ejected from the game, benches cleared, and each side exchanged words. The Pirates' Sean Rodriguez was also ejected from the game.