- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

When the theme music from “The Benny Hill Show” is played in the same inning the opposing pitcher doubles, things are not going well for a pitcher. That was life Sunday afternoon for Pittsburgh starter Charlie Morton, when he was a punching bag during a record-setting first inning for the Washington Nationals.

Bloops, smashes, walks and runs filled the first inning for the Nationals at sold-out and heat-filled Nationals Park. The nine-run first inning put them on their way to a 9-2 win and a three-game sweep of the previously hot Pittsburgh Pirates.

The nine runs were a first-inning record for the club since it returned to Washington in 2005. The total also tied the most in any inning over the last decade. The last time the Nationals scored nine runs in one inning was on May 31, 2010 at Houston.

A wild throw from Morton to first base — when the Pirates were already down, 4-0, with runners on first and third — prompted the carnival-style music from the raucous British comedy to play over the public address system. Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez followed the bad pickoff attempt with a smile-prompting double between the first-base line and the first baseman. Gonzalez looked into the Nationals’ dugout, searching for Max Scherzer, and smirked when he ran up the baseline before turning for second. Morton was bent at the waist, looking ready for someone to wake him and tell him not to worry, that it was all just a dream.

Twelve Nationals hitters made it to the plate in the opening inning. Only Danny Espinosa, who struck out, did not reach base. Bryce Harper continued thundering through the season when he hit a first-pitch fastball into the second deck in right field. Harper’s 24th home run of the season ended Morton’s 14-inning scoreless streak with immediacy. The ongoing parade through the rest of the inning also ended Morton’s career-high five-game winning streak.

Yunel Escobar hit a three-run home run in his second at-bat of the inning. Escobar, who has been long on style and substance this season, jumped onto home plate and swept his hands upward. Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle walked out to end Morton’s misery. His final potholed line: 2/3 of an inning, eight hits, nine runs, one walk and one strikeout.

SEE ALSO: Max Scherzer still smiling a day after finishing off Nationals’ second no-hitter

The bountiful inning helped close a productive weekend for the injury-filled Nationals. Max Scherzer threw the organization’s second no-hitter on Saturday. A day earlier, young starter Joe Ross handled Pittsburgh in his third career outing.

“The last three guys who we’ve had start games pitched really well,” manager Matt Williams said. “That sets our tone, certainly. It doesn’t mean it’s going to happen every day. I like the way we were aggressive early offensively, as well. Guys are starting to get their legs back. We’re using the base paths a little more. That’s certainly part of our equation. Our defense has been solid too. Over the course of three days, all of that adds up to chances to win games.”

Sweeping the three-game series with the Pirates vaulted the Nationals back into first place in the National League East with hopes such a clean series indicates they have snapped out of their prior funk. Morton was just happy to get out of town.

• Todd Dybas can be reached at tdybas@washingtontimes.com.

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