PITTSBURGH -- The Nationals suffered a heartbreaking loss on Tuesday, as Rod Barajas' two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning gave the Pirates a 5-4 walk-off win at PNC Park.
The Nationals had a one-run lead entering the bottom of the inning, but reliever Henry Rodriguez couldn't close it out. It didn't help that his curveball wasn't at its best. After Alex Presley singled, Yamaico Navarro was at the plate when Rodriguez threw two curveballs that went past catcher Wilson Ramos for wild pitches and allowed Presley to advance to third base.
"I tried too hard, as you saw. I missed the spot. I threw wild," Rodriguez said through teammate Jesus Flores. "Just like that, I tried to be too perfect."
After Navarro struck out, for the second out of the inning, Barajas came to the plate. With the curveball not working, Rodriguez had no choice but to throw the fastball. Barajas was looking for it, and in the next instant, Pittsburgh's catcher hit a two-run homer over the left-field wall. Game over, as the Nationals lost their second consecutive game.
"Maybe Henry had too much rest," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "He usually has good command of his curveball, and that kind of got him in the jam. I still thought he was going to get out of it. Obviously, Barajas knows that he is going to get a fastball. He gets out in front and that's the ballgame."
Barajas was confident that something great would happen against Rodriguez. Barajas knew he wouldn't see a breaking ball.
"I was pretty confident. I know he throws hard," Barajas said of Rodriguez, "and I consider myself a fastball hitter. After seeing two breaking balls in the dirt, I figured chances were he wouldn't throw that again, and would come hard. And I was ready to let it go."
The Nationals got off to a good start in the game against right-hander A.J. Burnett, starting in the third inning, when Ramos swung at the first pitch -- a fastball -- and hit the ball over the right-center-field wall for his second homer of the season.
An inning later, it was Bryce Harper who was able to get things started. He led off with a double and later scored on a single by Rick Ankiel.
Burnett ended up pitching eight innings and striking out 10 batters in the game.
Nationals righty Edwin Jackson was done in by the long ball in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Andrew McCutchen led off the frame with a monster home run over the center-field fence to make it a one-run game. Three batters later, Garrett Jones tied the score with a homer over the right-field wall.
That proved to be Jackson's only bad inning. He ended up going seven innings, allowing two runs on three hits, striking out five batters and walking one.
"It was a well-pitched game on both sides," Jackson said. "It was unfortunate [the way it ended]. It was a battle all around -- from both sides."
The score was tied at 2 when the Pirates took the lead against reliever Tyler Clippard in the bottom of the eighth inning. After pinch-hitter Nate McLouth led off with a walk, Jose Tabata hit what looked like a perfect double-play ball to shortstop Ian Desmond, but the ball went under his glove for an error and put runners on first and third with no outs.
"I was running to the base to cover for the steal. I saw contact," Desmond said. "The ball basically went through Clippard and it went through my legs. [Tabata] hit it well. I wish there was more I could say. I just never really saw it."
Neil Walker then hit a sacrifice fly, which scored McLouth.
In the top of the ninth, Adam LaRoche appeared to be the hitting hero. His two-run homer helped the Nationals take a 4-3 lead.
It was LaRoche's first game back after missing four consecutive games because of right abdominal soreness, and he made his first game count against Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan.
The Nationals were behind, 3-2, when Ryan Zimmerman led off with a single. LaRoche followed and hit the ball over the right-center-field wall to give Washington a one-run lead. It was LaRoche's fifth home run of the season. The homer also marked the 1,000th homer in Nationals history.
"It was nice to confirm that I can get out there and take full swings, with the way my side has been feeling. In that regard, good," LaRoche said.
But the milestone was overlooked on this night because Washington lost a game they should have won.
"Tough loss today," LaRoche said. "We come in and get a couple [of runs] late to go up one. I don't know. [Barajas] turned on that fastball. On the first pitch, too."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.