WASHINGTON—If Dusty Baker had gotten the sign to his catcher faster, the Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates might still be playing.
Instead, Baker was slow on the trigger in asking for an intentional walk and the Nationals lost to the Pirates 2-1 in 18 innings yesterday on Starling Marte’s solo home run off Oliver Perez.
Baker took responsibility for the mistake of not getting his four fingers up in time to alert Wilson Ramos and Perez to intentionally walk Marte with pitcher Jonathon Niese on deck and Pittsburgh out of hitters.
“Before I could, he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark,” Baker noted.
“It hurts to make a mistake like that,” he added. “I was aware of the situation before I could get Wilson’s attention.”
The 18-inning marathon—shorter than only the 19 innings Cleveland and Toronto played July 1—took five hours, 48 minutes.
Seventeen pitchers combined for a total of 540 pitches, but it was the one Perez (2-3) shouldn’t have thrown that the Nationals lamented afterward.
“It is a good idea in that case to walk him, but they gave me an opportunity to pitch against him,” Perez said.
“In that case, I tried to make a difficult pitch for him to hit,” he noted. “Unfortunately, he made good contact on that pitch.
“It was my mistake.”
Marte’s seventh home run of the season, which went into the mostly-empty left-field seats, was enough of a boost to help Niese (8-6) get through a third inning of relief.
Whether it was Niese, starter Chad Kuhl, or the relievers in between, the Nationals couldn’t get much going at the plate and finished with just eight hits.
The biggest of those came on a 2-2 count with two outs in the ninth when with injured infielder Daniel Murphy took Pittsburgh all-star closer Mark Melancon deep.
Murphy was out of the lineup for a third-straight day with a sore left hamstring, but his drive led to the Nationals and Pirates playing the equivalent of two games.
“I was trying to get a good pitch to hit and get my ‘A’ swing off,” noted Murphy, who’s unsure if he’ll be able to play tomorrow in the series-opener against the L.A. Dodgers.
“I got a pretty good pitch to hit and put a pretty good move on it.”
Murphy’s home run took Max Scherzer off the hook for what would have been his second 1-0 loss in three starts.
Scherzer gave up one run and six hits while striking out seven in seven efficient innings.
As impressive as Scherzer was, Kuhl outduelled him with six innings of one-hit baseball.
The Pirates’ righty allowed one hit and two runners, and struck out five in six shutout innings.
But by the time the game dragged into extra innings, the starts by Scherzer and Kuhl felt like distant memories.
“It was so long I don’t even remember Scherzer even pitching,” Baker quipped.
Even with all the other twists and turns, a perfect 16th-inning relay from centre-fielder Michael A. Taylor to shortstop Danny Espinosa to Ramos to get Eric Fryer out at the plate was a cause for some amazement.
Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle accurately called it a crazy game.
“How about the relay they had in the 16th inning?” he said.
“It’s the best relay in the history of the game in the 16th inning. Ever.
“It’s fantastic baseball.”
Elsewhere in the NL, Cincinnati nipped Milwaukee 1-0, Atlanta shaded Colorado 1-0, New York blanked Philadelphia 5-0, Miami doubled St. Louis 6-3, Arizona topped L.A. 6-5, and San Diego beat San Francisco 5-3.
Texas downed the Chicago Cubs 4-1 in interleague play.