The Washington Post

The Nationals blow a ninth-inning lead and fall at Pittsburgh, 4-3.

PIRATES 4, NATIONALS 3 Slugger gets homer, not win in Pittsburgh return

- BY GENE WANG gene.wang@washpost.com

pittsburgh — For his first five years in the majors, Josh Bell came to PNC Park and strolled through the corridors on the field level until he arrived at the Pittsburgh Pirates’ clubhouse, where he was a beloved teammate.

On Friday, Bell headed in the opposite direction, to the visitors’ clubhouse with his Washington Nationals teammates for the opener in the three-game series. The journey was just a little bit awkward.

“It’s my first time walking through this tunnel,” Bell, who joined the Nationals this past offseason, said while standing in front of the visitors’ dugout roughly 90 minutes before first pitch. “First time being in that clubhouse.”

Bell was far more comfortabl­e at the plate, sparking the Nationals to a two-run lead with a homer in the sixth inning. The bullpen, however, doomed Washington again in a 4-3 loss, allowing Ke’bryan Hayes to single in the decisive run with two outs in the ninth, wasting a strong start from Josh Rogers.

Well before the collapse that unfolded when relievers Patrick Murphy and Alberto Baldonado failed to record the final three outs, Bell had blasted a solo shot off Pirates reliever Sam Howard on an 0-1 fastball that sailed over the wall in left center. It was the switch hitter’s 26th homer, matching his second most in a season.

In 2019, Bell set his personal mark for homers with 37 while playing 143 games with the Pirates. He also had career highs of 116 RBI, 94 runs and 146 hits with a .277 batting average, on the way to being named an all-star for the only time in his career.

Friday’s blast was the ninth homer of the season for Bell while batting right-handed, and he has hit safely in 16 of 18 games. Over that time Bell is hitting .313 (21 for 67) with six homers, four doubles, 15 RBI and eight runs. He also walked twice, bumping his total to 13 in that span.

The first baseman has hit safely in 21 of 24 games and entered Friday hitting .294 over his past 23 games with an on-base percentage of .400 and a slugging percentage of .565.

Bell exchanged pleasantri­es with a handful of former teammates, and appreciati­ve Pirates supporters greeted him with two ovations, the first during pregame player introducti­ons.

Then they rose from their seats when Bell walked to the plate for the first time to face Pittsburgh opening pitcher Steven Brault, who worked two innings, during which time the Nationals (58-83) took a 2-0 lead.

“It was cool,” Bell said. “You really don’t know what to expect going into it, but I was happy to get somewhat of a good turnout here, cool little video tribute that they put together for me. It was definitely icing on the cake to hit a homer as well.”

Catcher Riley Adams, all 6-foot-4, 246 pounds of him, drove in the Nationals’ first run in the second inning with his first career triple after third baseman Carter Kieboom drew a leadoff walk. Adams scored when center fielder Lane Thomas connected on a sharp liner to left.

Pittsburgh got one back in the third off Rogers, who permitted a leadoff double to Cole Tucker. The Pirates shortstop scored two batters later on Hayes’s sacrifice fly to center. Rogers also gave up a leadoff homer in the seventh to Anthony Alford.

The 27-year-old left-hander making his second start with the Nationals and just the fifth of his career recorded two outs in the seventh before departing on the heels of a single from pinch hitter Wilmer Difo, who played for the Nationals the previous six seasons.

Rogers exited with Washington leading 3-2 after giving up eight hits, walking one and striking out one over 62/ innings in the longest

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outing of his career, which began in 2018 with the Baltimore Orioles.

“I thought he came out of the game throwing fastballs and just challengin­g guys,” said Nationals bench coach Tim Bogar, who managed while Dave Martinez served a one-game suspension for his involvemen­t in Wednesday’s incident in which reliever Sean Nolin hit Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. “He did a really good job of getting after people with that.”

Andres Machado pitched 11/ innings of scoreless relief fol

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lowing Rogers, who averted what had the makings of a productive inning for the Pirates in the sixth when they started with consecutiv­e singles. But Rogers induced three straight fly outs to escape damage.

Murphy and Baldonado could not muster the same. With closer Kyle Finnegan getting a second straight night off, Murphy got the first crack at closing, but Alford led off the ninth with a single, and Ben Gamel followed with a walk.

Two wild pitches later, Pittsburgh (51-90) had runners on second and third with one out, and Murphy gave way to Baldonado. Pinch hitter Colin Morgan’s hardhit groundout off Baldonado allowed Alford to score the tying run before Hayes ended it.

“I mean, that’s baseball,” Rogers said. “It is what it is. Obviously everybody in that locker room was fighting hard and wants to get the win. Hopefully we’ll come back tomorrow and compete.”

Nolin receives five-game ban

Nolin was suspended for five games and fined an undisclose­d amount for intentiona­lly hitting Freeman, Major League Baseball announced Friday.

Martinez was fined an undisclose­d amount for his involvemen­t in the incident, which took place in the first inning Wednesday, when Nolin threw behind Freeman and then plunked the Braves star.

Nolin, who was ejected from the game, is not appealing his suspension, which also began Friday.

The incident in Wednesday’s game, a 4-2 Nationals win, came one year after Braves closer Will Smith had heated words for Juan Soto when Soto peered in on Smith’s warmup pitches between innings. Soto later blasted a towering home run and stared down Smith.

On Tuesday, Smith hit Soto with a 94-mph fastball. Afterward, Martinez told reporters he had not given thought as to whether Smith hit Soto on purpose.

The next night, Nolin hit Freeman near the first baseman’s hip.

 ?? KEITH SRAKOCIC/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? “I was happy to get somewhat of a good turnout here,” said Josh Bell, who homered in the sixth inning.
KEITH SRAKOCIC/ASSOCIATED PRESS “I was happy to get somewhat of a good turnout here,” said Josh Bell, who homered in the sixth inning.

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