PITTSBURGH - The primary focus of last night's game was on the bottom of the ninth, when Mark Melancon blew his first save with the Nationals on Sean Rodriguez's two-out double past a possibly mis-positioned Trea Turner in center field. But there was a lot more to the Nats' 6-5 11-inning loss than that, so let's recap some other important (or mildly interesting) developments ...
* We'll start with the end of the game, which saw Yusmeiro Petit give up the winning run on a bases-loaded single by Pirates rookie Jacob Stallings. Neither guy had seen much action of late; Petit was making only his second appearance of September, Stallings had not made any game appearance at all since getting called up from Triple-A on September 13.
Petit gave up two hits in the inning, including Francisco Cervelli's one-out double, but his biggest mistake probably was his walk of Pedro Florimon, which loaded the bases and put Cervelli in position to score on any ball that found outfield grass.
Even so, Petit nearly got out of the jam unscathed. He struck out Rodriguez with a slider down and away, and his 2-2 pitch to Stallings (a curveball) should have been strike three. According to the Twitter account @NationalsUmp, which tracks all borderline pitches, umpires call pitches thrown to that exact location a strike 82 percent of the time.
With the count now 3-2 and one more ball forcing the winning run home, Petit threw a cutter right down the heart of the plate. Stallings lined it over Anthony Rendon's head and down the left field line, winning the game for Pittsburgh.
* The Nationals certainly had their chances to win the game earlier. They stranded the go-ahead runner in scoring position when Turner struck out in the top of the 10th. They missed a chance to add to their 5-4 lead in the top of the ninth when Rendon struck out with two on and Clint Robinson grounded out with the bases loaded. Bryce Harper also left the bases loaded in the sixth when he struck out looking.
* Gio Gonzalez slogged his way through another disappointing start, giving up three runs in five innings, and needing 91 pitches to do it. It wasn't so much the final line, though, as the manner in which it played out.
The Nationals, as they have done countless times this season, handed Gonzalez a 3-0 lead in the top of the second. And Gonzalez, as he has done countless times this season, gave all three runs back in short order. The Pirates scored twice on him in the bottom of the second via four singles, including a two-out RBI hit by pitcher Jameson Taillon. They then brought home the tying run in the bottom of the third on Andrew McCutchen's leadoff triple and Jung Ho Kang's RBI groundout.
"He has to be better at those shutdown innings," manager Dusty Baker said. "Anybody up there with the bat is dangerous."
Gonzalez, now the owner of a 4.51 ERA that ranks 25th out of 31 qualifying National League pitchers, has failed to reach the sixth inning in three of his last four starts, six of his last nine.
The left-hander only gets one more tune-up, Wednesday against the Diamondbacks, before the postseason.
* It wasn't all discouraging last night. Harper had three hits, all of them to either left or center field, and he nearly hit one of those out of the park. His first-inning blast to deep left-center bounced off the wall for a double, but that wall is about 400 feet from the plate, the deepest left-center in the majors. In the bigger picture, last night was an encouraging night at the plate for Harper.
It also was an encouraging night at the plate for Ryan Zimmerman, who roped a pair of doubles, nearly identical to each other: line drives over the second baseman's head that wound up plugging the gap in right-center. Combine those two extra-base hits with his homer and drive to the deep wall in center field at Marlins Park on Wednesday night, and maybe - just maybe - the veteran first baseman is finally starting to put things together at the end of a very frustrating season.
* The Nationals' magic number to clinch the NL East title remains two, and they'll give it another shot tonight. But keep in mind the other race they're in, which is not nearly as close to being locked-up: home-field advantage for the NLDS. The Dodgers won last night and now are only 1 1/2 games behind the Nats for the second-best record in the NL. Keep in mind: Los Angeles wins the tiebreaker if the two finish with the same record, so the Nationals have to own at least one more win at season's end lest they want to face Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium in both Games 1 and 5 of the NLDS.