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Nationals beat Pirates 6-1

The Washington Nationals took advantage of an error-riddled fourth inning as they toppled the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 and clinched the National League East on Saturday night at PNC Park.

After their victory over the Pirates and the New York Mets’ loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, the Nationals secured the N.L. East crown for the third time in the past five years.

It’s certainly not the first time that the Pirates janitorial staff has had to mop champagne off of the visitor’s clubhouse floor – the St. Louis Cardinals celebrated their N.L. Central victory in Pittsburgh last season and the Chicago Cubs did the same after defeating the Pirates in the Wild Card Game – but the Bucs would have liked to play better to prevent another celebration.

But an astoundingly sloppy fourth inning put the Pirates in what would prove to be an insurmountable hole. After shortstop Danny Espinosa reached on an infield single to No Man’s Land, pinch hitter Brian Goodwin hit a dribbler in front of the plate. Francisco Cervelli fielded it and sent an errant throw that missed the first baseman’s mitt by several yards.

Hot-hitting shortstop Sean Rodriguez fielded a grounder and tried to gun Turner down at home, only to throw the ball away and allow the run to score. The Bucs defense would cough up yet another run when second baseman Adam Frazier botched a toss to second base that could have resulted in an inning-ending double play.

“We need to get two outs there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “The throw wasn’t good. The feed wasn’t good. It was a bad defensive inning.”

When all was said and done, the Nationals extended its lead to 6-1 after they accrued three unearned runs on three errors and a wild pitch. Neither of the two Nationals hits in the third left the infield.

Hurdle said that bad defense stunted what could have been an easy inning for starter Ivan Nova, who gave up three runs in a long first inning but seemed to be finding his groove before the defense let him down in the fourth.

“I thought he was getting into a much better routine going into the fourth inning,” Hurdle said. “We more or less took him out of the game with our defense.”

The Pirates righty said that his stuff felt good, but he lasted only four innings and allowed six runs, three earned, on eight hits. Nova struck out two and hit two batters.

All of Pittsburgh’s offense came from rookie slugger Josh Bell. In the third inning, Bell smacked Joe Ross’s hanging slider into the seats atop the Clemente Wall in right field. The Pirates threatened to do real damage in the third, loading the bases with two outs, but Matt Joyce flew out to end the inning.

“I got one ball good,” Bell said. “Aside from that, no, we didn’t capitalize for the most part.”

That was the closest that the Pirates would get to a big inning on Saturday night. Ross, who has been out for much of the season with shoulder inflammation, was pulled after 2 and 2/3 stressful innings, but long reliever Reynaldo Lopez provided five scoreless innings as the Nationals waltzed to their 90th win of the season.

With the loss, the Pirates drop back down to .500. At 77-77, their elimination number is now down to five.

The Pirates will send rookie Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 4.11 ERA) to the mound in Sunday afternoon’s rubber match. The Nationals, who will presumably be nursing post-celebratory hangovers, have not yet announced a starter.

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