- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

There were no historic pitching performances, Gatorade baths or chocolate syrup showers Sunday afternoon, but the Washington Nationals got another win. They beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 9-2, to complete a three-game sweep and remain atop the National League East for another day.

Gio Gonzalez’s outing was destined to become lost in the shadow of Max Scherzer’s no-hitter Saturday, but the left-hander was good. Really good. He limited the Pirates to only four hits over seven scoreless innings, with two walks and four strikeouts.

After a day off Monday, the Nationals will open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves.

THE RUNDOWN: Rarely does a game get so wildly out of hand in the first inning that the rest of it becomes a futile exercise, but that’s what happened Sunday. Pirates right-hander Charlie Morton retired the first batter he faced, then proceeded to give up eight hits and nine runs and record only one more out. Bryce Harper hit a two-run home run, Yunel Escobar hit a three-run home run and eight of the nine hitters in Washington’s lineup touched home plate in the inning. Morton’s ERA ballooned from 1.62 to 3.97 in a span of 43 pitches. And the Nationals built a lead that proved insurmountable.

THE HIGHLIGHT: When Jose Tabata was introduced before Sunday’s game, he was booed. When he first stepped to the plate in the second inning, he was booed. Before and after each of his remaining three at-bats, he was booed. And even when he caught fly balls in right field, he was booed. Whether Tabata purposefully leaned into a hanging slider from Scherzer to break up his perfect game with two outs in the ninth inning Saturday is debatable. Tabata says it was not intentional. Nationals fans clearly feel differently. And the way in which they voiced those feelings Sunday was honestly pretty impressive.

STAR OF THE GAME: The fact that Harper has been in the lineup these past two days has been surprising. The fact that he’s homered in each game is downright incredible. On Saturday, he became the first left-handed hitter to homer off Francisco Liriano in more than a year. Sunday was more of the same. This time, he hit a two-run shot to the second deck in right field in the first inning to give Washington an early lead. It was a no-doubter, and it was his career-best 24th home run of the season. The season, by the way, still has more than three months left to it. And if what the team called a “mild hamstring strain” in Harper’s left leg doesn’t start barking down the road, watch out.


SEE ALSO: Max Scherzer throws no-hitter as Nationals beat Pirates, 6-0


THE TAKEAWAY: Maybe the Nationals could be more streaky than they’ve been this season, but probably not. They go from ice-cold to red-hot in the blink of an eye, and it’s contagious. One day, the lineup is awful and the pitching is struggling and the defense is porous. The next day, Scherzer is throwing a gem, the Nationals are racking up double-digit hits and there’s no shortage of sparkling defensive plays. The Nationals always know they are capable of playing like this. It’s weeding out the off nights, and establishing consistency, that has proven to be difficult.

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