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PIT@WSH: Burnett allows one earned run through seven

WASHINGTON -- Call a game of baseball a roller coaster of emotions, and you get accused of being stuck in the past or, worse, get branded a hopeless romantic.

Oh, yeah? Well, what to call a ride such as Thursday afternoon's?

Perhaps the Pirates' highest moment of the entire season -- Josh Harrison's two-strike, two-out, two-run ninth-inning single to dot a four-run rally into a tie -- quickly free-fell into perhaps the lowest -- Bryce Harper's two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the inning for the Nats' 9-7 victory.

Bryan Morris, the man who threw the 1-1 cut fastball drilled by Harper, knows the season roller coaster will go on.

"I'll bounce back. We'll bounce back," said Morris, who surrendered a one-out single to Kurt Suzuki, who was on first as he faced Harper. "Harper's a good hitter. He beat me. To the biggest part of the field, too."

Harper's two-run liner over the left-center wall for his first career walk-off homer also brought an anticlimactic end to the Pirates' four-game winning streak.

The anticlimax came from the prelude. In the first spin around the roller coaster, the Bucs had almost overcome the Nationals' error-fueled four-run first inning against starter A.J. Burnett -- only to see the Nats open a new four-run lead with three runs in the eighth against the first wave of Pittsburgh relievers.

And here came the Pirates again, this time erasing all of that 7-3 lead in the ninth.

Rafael Soriano, the Washington closer who took over in a non-save situation, opened the door by walking the first two men, pinch-hitter Neil Walker and Starling Marte. Jordy Mercer's double and Russell Martin's single drove in runs to make it 7-5 -- but they sandwiched Andrew McCutchen's strikeout.

So even though lefty Ian Krol, who replaced Soriano, walked the first man he faced, Pedro Alvarez, to load the bases, his strikeout of pinch-hitter Jose Tabata brought the Nats within one out of victory.

They got to within one strike -- but Harrison punched Krol's 2-2 pitch sharply into center to chase home the tying runs and fuel false hope.

"I knew he had to come in with a strike," Harrison said, "and I just tried to put a good swing on it. Just shows we're a team that never quits. There's a lot of fight in us. We know we're not done until the last out."

They never got to that last out this time. Instead, Harper hit one out, the 20-year-old's 36th career homer but the first to end a game.

"I'm just happy we won. I'm serious," said Harper, who began the game by closing marvelously on Marte's line drive to left-center and lowering into a dive for a spectacular catch. "I could care less about whether it went over the fence or if it was a double off the wall. I don't really remember any of the play. But I'm just very happy that we won the ballgame and very excited we were able to come through."

The Bucs may be starting to feel like Sisyphus-mini. For the fourth time, their upward push of the boulder stopped at 21 games over .500, as it rolled back to 20 (60-40).

Harrison, in a rare outfield start, first brought the Pirates close with a home run off Gio Gonzalez, a two-run shot in the sixth -- the fifth of his career and second off Gonzalez.

"When you have a track record against somebody, even if small, you do kinda go into it with a bit of confidence," Harrison said. "You already knows what he throws, you've seen everything he has, and can take it from there."

Burnett was betrayed by the rough first inning, in which the Pirates erred around the horn. Errors third (Alvarez) to second (Mercer) to first (Gaby Sanchez) resulted in three of the runs being unearned. Such misfortune befell Burnett for the second consecutive start: In Cincinnati on Saturday, he also endured four runs in the first, three unearned.

"Part of baseball, man. Those things happen. Things you can't control," Burnett said. "[My teammates] have to realize it didn't faze me, and it shouldn't faze them, either. We've got a long way to go. My job is to keep making quality pitches, no matter what, and get deep into the game."

Burnett wound up going seven innings, allowing nine hits and a walk while striking out five and getting his ERA below three (2.96) for the first time since late May.

Following his departure, the Nationals struck for three runs in the eighth -- on Steve Lombardozzi's RBI double and Adam LaRoche's two-run triple under right fielder Travis Snider's diving lunge.

Most upsetting for the Pirates early on was their inability to get back into the game, despite repeated opportunities. Only slightly sharper than the Pittsburgh defense, Gonzalez kept opening the door for them.

Remarkably, the Bucs put two men on base in each of the first four innings, and they reaped only one run -- on Burnett's grounder in the fourth, his first RBI of the season. The Pirates were 0-for-8 with men in scoring position in that four-inning stretch.

Despite the late clutch hitting, they wound up 3-for-18 in that department, some unwanted baggage accompanying them to Miami for the final three games of this 10-game trip.

"It's disappointing," Harrison said of Harper and the Nationals having gotten the last word, "but we've got to put it behind us and get ready for tomorrow. Because today doesn't affect tomorrow."

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