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Big third inning lifts Nationals over Pirates

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Kevin Correia allowed five runs, including four in the third inning, and the Washington Nationals beat the Pirates 6-3 on Sunday. Neil Walker had three hits and an RBI for Pittsburgh.

Nationals 6, Pirates 3
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, PA

During his first four starts as a Pittsburgh Pirate, Kevin Correia was a taxed bullpen's best friend. He averaged seven innings when his turn in the rotation came up, making three quality starts. While peripheral stats suggested that his ERA should have been a couple runs higher than his actual sub-2.50 mark, Correia wiggled his way out of jams.

On Easter Sunday, Correia's sweet beginning in the black and gold turned sour. Mike Morse and Adam LaRoche went deep for the Nationals (10-10), who banged out a season-high 15 hits on their way to a 6-3 win over the Pirates at PNC Park.

The 15 hits Pittsburgh (9-12) surrendered tied a season high -- Bucs pitchers also allowed 15 base knocks on April 16 and 17 against the Cincinnati Reds.

The Pirates finished up with 11 hits of their own on Sunday, but the club left sixteen runners on base.

Coming off a complete game victory at Cincinnati last Monday, Correia (3-2) lasted just 4.2 innings against the Nationals while throwing 84 pitches. He was pummeled for five earned runs on 11 hits, striking out two hitters and walking one. With the quick hook on Sunday, Correia failed to log at least six innings pitched in a start for the first time during the 2011 season.

"He [Correia] was up in the zone more today than he had been in any other outing," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "His fastball command wasn't as sharp as he wanted it to be. The location of a couple of pitches got up and over the middle of the plate, and they were able to extend and drive some balls out of the ballpark. He was battling, but he was working uphill for most of the day."
 
The Pirates took an early lead, with Andrew McCutchen doubling to the left field wall to start the game and coming around to score on an opposite-field single from Neil Walker. Correia then escaped danger in the top of the second, looking like a matador while snaring a ground ball comebacker to the mound off the bat of Alex Cora with runners on second and third base and two outs.

But the Bucs' free agent pickup got the horns in the third frame.

Pitcher Jason Marquis and second baseman Danny Espinosa hit back-to-back singles to begin the inning, and Espinosa then swiped second base with Rick Ankiel at the plate. Ankiel worked a walk by laying off a 3-2 changeup in the dirt, loading the bases.

Correia got the next hitter, Jayson Werth, to hit a grounder to third and force out Marquis at the plate. An Adam LaRoche chopper to Lyle Overbay brought in a run, with Overbay stepping on the first base bag and Espinosa scoring.

With runners on second and third base, Correia got ahead 1-2 in the count against Mike Morse. Correia spotted an 89 MPH fastball that just missed the inside edge of the strike zone, evening the count at 2-2.

He tried to go back to the same spot again with the next pitch, attempting to jam the 6-foot-5 Morse, but the Nats' left fielder got his arms extended and punched the offering over the left field wall for a three-run homer.

"Bases loaded, nobody out, and their best hitter [Werth] up, and I was a pitch away from only giving up a run," Correia said. "I was trying to throw a fastball in and it just didn't move like I wanted it to. That guy [Morse] is dangerous, and you can't miss over the plate."

The Pirates narrowed the deficit in the bottom of the fourth. After Garrett Jones drew a free pass, Pedro Alvarez doubled to right field on a high fastball. A Chris Snyder sacrifice fly made it 4-2 Nats, and Ronny Cedeno brought the Bucs within a run by driving a Marquis slider to the North Side Notch for a double.

That's a close as the Pirates would get, however. Adam LaRoche hit a solo shot to right field in the top of the fifth on a low changeup that stayed in the middle of the plate. In the eighth inning, pinch-hitter Laynce Nix doubled to center field off Mike Crotta to bring home Alex Cora.

Not that the Pirates didn't have their chances to break the game open. Marquis squeezed out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning by getting Snyder to hit a grounder that forced out Walker at third base. In the fifth inning, the Pirates had runners on the corners with two outs, but Alvarez chopped a Marquis changeup to second base.

Marquis (2-0) threw an even 100 pitches in six innings, giving up eight hits and three earned runs while walking and whiffing two apiece. He matched his win total during an injury-plagued 2010 campaign by inducing 12 ground ball outs. Tyler Clippard followed with two scoreless innings of relief, punching out two Pirates.

It looked like the Bucs might start a rally in the bottom of the ninth, with McCutchen hitting a ground ball off Drew Storen to third base that Jerry Hairston Jr. bare-handed and threw into foul territory. Espinosa chased after the ball, scooped it up and tried to unload a throw to second, but it slipped out of his grasp and into the stands, allowing McCutchen to fly into third on the double-error play.

Tabata stepped to the plate and got behind Storen 1-2. Storen broke off a mid-80s slider on the outside corner that Tabata hit to medium depth in right field. Jayson Werth made the catch, and McCutchen took off from third base.

Werth threw a one-hopper slightly up the first base line. Nats catcher Ivan Rodriguez snagged it, lunged to his left and made a swipe tag on a sliding McCutchen, getting the out call to end the game on a 9-2 double play.

McCutchen -- and his manager -- disagreed with the call.

The Bucs' center fielder slammed his helmet into the dirt in frustration, and Hurdle hurried out of the dugout to argue with umpire Kerwin Danley, giving him a mouthful while following him up the third base line.

"It doesn't matter what I thought," McCutchen said when asked about the play. "There's nothing you can do now. You can't change it. I'm just trying to play hard -- that's about it."

"I thought he was safe," Hurdle said.

Given their three-run deficit, the Bucs would have needed plenty of additional offense even if McCutchen were called safe at the plate. Would it have made sense for McCutchen to have stayed put and given the middle of the Pirates' lineup a chance to do damage?

"We want to be aggressive, we want to be smart," Hurdle said. "You never want to make the last out at home, but sometimes those things are going to happen. It's not a perfect world, and it's not a perfect game. But our mentality is to play aggressive, and that's going to win us more games than it's going to cost us."

"We felt like we were in the game the whole time," McCutchen said. "We just weren't able to get those few extra runs. We got the short end of the stick today."

Marquis shines... at the plate
Nationals starter Jason Marquis had a decent day on the mound, but he showed off his lefty hitting stroke by going for 2-for-4 at the dish. Marquis has long been one of the better batters among his light-hitting brethren -- he has the fourth-highest OPS among active MLB pitchers with at least 300 career plate appearances. His teammate, Livan Hernandez, ranks one spot ahead of him on the list.

"He's a good hitter," said Correia. "I treated him like I would any other lefty in the lineup. I just didn't have good at-bats against him."

Up Next
After Friday's rainout changed Monday from an off-day to a workday, the Nationals-Pirates series extends an extra day when the two teams meet in a rubber match at PNC Park. In a battle of lefties, the Nationals will send John Lannan to the mound while the Pirates go with Paul Maholm in the finale.

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