Good, Bad & Ugly: Nationals Knock Down Pirates 5-3
"I've never been booed before. It kind of pumped me up. It's not that emotion you wanted, but it got my adrenaline pumping."—Sean Burnett, on the Pirates' fans reaction to his comments about the Pirates being the "laughingstock of baseball," August 2, 2009.
THE RESULT: Josh Willingham continued his hot streak, hitting a two-run home run and a run-scoring double, to lead the Washington Nationals over the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-3, before 21,894 at beautiful PNC Park.
The win halts the Nats losing streak at four, and pushes their season record to 33-72.
Burnett (W, 2-2, 2.42), booed lustily by Pirates fans when he entered the game, recorded one out and was the beneficiary of Willingham's work with the bat as the pitcher of record at the time of the blast.
Willingham is hitting .331 with 16 homers and 40 RBI in his past 66 games.
Nats starter Collin Balester had a decent performance, working ahead in the count most of the day. He left with two outs in the sixth inning, allowing two earned runs on five hits and two walks. He struck out three, and gave up Ronnie Cedeno's sixth home run of the season.
The middle of the Nats lineup did all the damage necessary backing Balester and the other pitchers. Ryan Zimmerman got on base, going 2-for-3 with a walk, and Willingham drove him in.
Ronnie Belliard, starting at first, also had two hits and a stolen base, and Alberto Gonzalez had two RBIs at the bottom of the order, scoring runs with a ground out and ground-rule double.
Pirates starter Paul Maholm (L, 6-6, 4.75) gave up four earned runs on seven hits and two walks to take the loss.
The day was also full of bad base running, as both teams had two runners thrown out stealing. And the Pirates Andy LaRoche was picked off at first base by Wil Nieves. Nieves had trouble coming up with a slider down and away, and LaRoche broke for second, but stopped and tried to retreat.
Nieves made a perfect throw and Belliard applied the tag, according to first base umpire Tim Timmons. Replays were inconclusive at best whether Belliard actually tagged LaRoche. Belliard stood on first base stroking his chin whiskers as Pittsburgh manager John Russell argued, to no avail.
THE TAKEAWAY: Willingham is just unconscious at the plate right now. His season averages of .305/.417/.598 all eclipse any previous career high or average. The truly interesting part of his hot stretch is that his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is not remarkably high at .330.
Sure, that's a touch above average, so a couple balls are falling in here or there for him. But mostly, he's just really putting good wood on the ball right now and "earning" his hits.
THE GOOD: Collin Balester. He threw 54 of his 84 pitches for strikes, including first pitch strikes to 12 of the 21 batters he faced.
THE BAD: Nyjer Morgan. He was 0-for4 and was caught stealing once.
THE UGLY: Jorge Sosa. In his Nationals' debut, he gave up a home run to the first batter he faced. Welcome to the Nats, Jorge.
NEXT GAME: The finale of the four-game wraparound series with the Buccos. The 7:05 p.m. game features Garrett Mock (0-4, 7.09) gunning for his first 2009 win against Charlie Morton (2-3, 3.72), who was acquired from Atlanta in the Nate McLouth deal.
NOTES: Austin Kearns, scheduled to start, was scratched due to a contusion on his right thumb. Belliard was inserted at first and Willingham pushed back into left field. It would have been Willingham's first career start at first base.
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