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Josh Bell homers in return to Pittsburgh, but Nats bullpen blows another lead
PITTSBURGH – For the first five years of his career in the majors, Josh Bell came to PNC Park and strolled through the corridors on the field level until arriving at the Pittsburgh Pirates clubhouse, where he had become a beloved teammate as well as a fan favorite.
On Friday, Bell headed in the opposite direction, to the visitor’s clubhouse with his Washington Nationals’ teammates for the opener in the three-game series. The journey was just a little bit awkward.
“It’s my first time walking through this tunnel,” Bell, who joined the Nationals this past offseason, said while standing in front of the visitor’s dugout roughly 90 minutes prior to first pitch. “First time being in that clubhouse.”
Bell was far more comfortable at the plate, sparking the Nationals (58-83) to a two-run lead with a homer in the sixth. The bullpen, however, doomed Washington again in a 4-3 loss after Ke’Bryan Hayes singled to drive in the decisive run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, wasting a strong start from Josh Rogers.
Well before the collapse that unfolded when relievers Patrick Murphy and Alberto Baldonado failed to record the final three outs, Bell had blasted a solo shot off Pirates reliever Sam Howard on an 0-1 fastball that sailed over the wall in left center. It was the switch hitter’s 26th homer, matching his second-most in a season.
In 2019, Bell set his personal mark for homers with 37 while playing 143 games with the Pirates. He also had career highs of 116 RBIs, 94 runs and 146 hits with a .277 batting average, on the way to being named an all-star for the first and only time in his career.
Friday’s blast was the ninth homer of the season for Bell while batting right-handed, and extended a run of hitting safely in 16 of 18 games. Over that time Bell is hitting .313 (21-for-67) with six homers, four doubles, 15 RBIs and eight runs. He also walked twice, bumping his total to 13 in that span.
The first baseman has hit safely in 21 of 24 games and entered Friday hitting .294 over his last 23 games with an on-base percentage of .400 and a slugging percentage of .565.
Bell exchanged pleasantries with a handful of former teammates, and appreciative Pirates supporters greeted him with two ovations, the first during pregame player introductions.
Then they rose from their seats when Bell walked to the plate for the first time to face Pittsburgh opening pitcher Steven Brault, who worked two innings during which time the Nationals took a 2-0 lead.
“It was cool,” Bell said. “You really don’t know what to expect going into it, but I was happy to get somewhat of a good turnout here, cool little video tribute that they put together for me. It was definitely icing on the cake to hit a homer as well.”
Catcher Riley Adams, all 6-foot-4, 246 pounds of him, drove in the Nationals’ first run in the second inning with his first career triple after third baseman Carter Kieboom drew a leadoff walk. Adams scored when center fielder Lane Thomas connected on a sharp liner to left.
Pittsburgh got one back in the third off Rogers, who permitted a leadoff double to Cole Tucker. The Pirates shortstop scored two batters later on Hayes’s sacrifice fly to center. Rogers also gave up a leadoff solo homer in the seventh to Anthony Alford.
The 26-year-old left-hander making his second start with the Nationals and just the fifth of his career recorded two outs in the seventh before departing on the heels of a single from pinch hitter Wilmer Difo, formerly of the Nationals for the previous six seasons.
Rogers exited with Washington leading 3-2 after giving up eight hits with one walk and a one strikeout over 6 2/3 innings in the longest outing of his career, which began in 2018 with the Baltimore Orioles.
“I thought he came out of the game throwing fastballs and just challenging guys,” said Nationals bench coach Tim Bogar, who managed while Dave Martinez served a one-game suspension for his involvement in Wednesday’s incident in which reliever Sean Nolin hit Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. “He did a really good job of getting after people with that.”
Andres Machado pitched 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief following Rogers, who averted what had the makings of a productive inning for the Pirates in the sixth when they started with consecutive singles. But Rogers induced three straight fly outs to escape damage.
Murphy and Baldonado could not muster the same. With closer Kyle Finnegan getting a second straight night off, Murphy got the first crack at closing, but Alford led off the bottom of the ninth with a single and Ben Gamel followed with a walk.
Two wild pitches later, Pittsburgh (51-90) had runners on second and third with one out, and Murphy gave way to Baldonado. Pinch-hitter Colin Morgan’s hard-hit groundout off Baldonado allowed Alford to score the tying run before Hayes ended it.
“I mean, that’s baseball,” Rogers said. “It is what it is. Obviously everybody in that locker room was fighting hard and wants to get the win. Hopefully we’ll come back tomorrow and compete.”
Published : September 11, 2021