LaRoche, Gonzales lead Nats past Pirates

Associated Press  |  Last updated May 16, 2012
Adam LaRoche broke open a tight game with a three-run double for his 1,000th career hit after homering for No. 999, and Gio Gonzalez took over the NL strikeout lead from teammate Stephen Strasburg by fanning 10 in seven innings Wednesday night, leading the Washington Nationals past the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-4. Hitting cleanup while Michael Morse is on the disabled list, LaRoche leads the Nationals with seven homers and 29 RBIs. Talk about a turnaround: LaRoche hit .172 with three homers in 43 games in 2011 before having left shoulder surgery. Gonzalez (5-1) allowed three runs, four hits and two walks. His 60 strikeouts are four more than Strasburg's total. LaRoche and Xavier Nady hit consecutive homers off Erik Bedard (2-5) in the sixth. Facing reliever Evan Meek with the bases loaded and two outs in a 4-3 game in the seventh, LaRoche lined the first pitch down the right field line. The scoreboard noted his milestone hit, and the announced crowd of 25,942 gave LaRoche a standing ovation. He doffed his cap. Meek, called up before the game from Triple-A Indianapolis, pitched one inning. He walked two batters and hit another, then served up LaRoche's big hit. Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard let in one run in the eighth, and struggling fill-in closer Henry Rodriguez overcame an error for his ninth save in 12 chances. He ended the game by getting Josh Harrison to ground into a double play. In Bedard's six innings, the left-hander gave up four runs and six hits, including three homers - all solo shots. He struck out seven and walked one. In his previous outing, a week earlier at home against Washington, Bedard lasted all of eight pitches before departing because of back spasms. This time, the second batter Bedard faced, 19-year-old Bryce Harper, barely missed connecting for a homer in the third consecutive game, sending a shot high off the out-of-town scoreboard on the wall in right field and ending up with his first major league triple. Ryan Zimmerman's groundout drove home Harper to make it 1-0. Ian Desmond put the hosts ahead 2-0 by leading off the third with his fifth homer of the season, and LaRoche and Nady made it 4-0 in a three-pitch span three innings later. How good was Gonzalez at mixing 95 mph fastballs with his tough curveball? One batter - OK, it was Bedard - thought he'd struck out even though he hadn't. After the third pitch of Bedard's first at-bat was called a strike, he began walking to the dugout, thinking that was strike 3. Except that pitch only made the count 1-2, because the first pitch of the at-bat was called a ball. So Bedard trudged back to the batter's box, and Gonzalez smiled broadly at the scene - then really did finish off the strikeout with a looping 77 mph curveball. That gave Gonzalez five Ks in a six-batter span. He retired 10 Pirates in a row until walking Yamaico Navarro to start the fifth inning, and that brought trouble. Rod Barajas followed with a single to right, putting runners at the corners with nobody out. After a strikeout, Harrison pulled Pittsburgh within 2-1 with an RBI liner that center fielder Harper got a late read on. In the seventh, Gonzalez walked Barajas then gave up Harrison's first homer of the season, a two-run shot to left that made it 4-3. That ended Gonzalez's streak of 58 innings without allowing a homer. Still, the Pirates' offensive woes continued: They've gone a dozen games without scoring more than five runs in any. NOTES: On Military Appreciation Night, a four-helicopter flyover preceded the game, and the Nationals wore their blue jerseys with a red-white-and-blue, stars-and-stripes curly W on the chest. ... Meek, an NL All-Star in 2010, was sent to the minors on May 1 with a 5.59 ERA. To bring him back, Pittsburgh optioned OF Alex Presley to Indianapolis. Presley was 3 for 42 over his past 15 games. ... Nationals RHP Chien-Ming Wang says he is willing to pitch in relief. Wang has yet to pitch for Washington this season after hurting his left hamstring during a spring training appearance March 15. He's slated to make one more start at Triple-A Syracuse as part of his rehab work but was in Washington on Wednesday to throw a bullpen session. ... Nationals C Wilson Ramos confirmed what was expected: He will miss the rest of this season after tearing his right knee's ACL Saturday night. ... Nationals RHP Jordan Zimmermann (2-3) faces Pirates RHP James McDonald (2-2) on Thursday to close the two-game series.
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