Nationals beat Pirates on Matt Stairs walk-off single

Matt Stairs watches the flight of his game-winning, ninth-inning single Friday. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

WASHINGTON (AP) - The outcome was similar. The approach was different. The record is .500 once again. After a 2-1 ninth-inning victory in his Washington Nationals home managerial debut, Davey Johnson had only one thing left to do to make it a truly successful evening.

He had to find his way home.

"That'll be a celebration," he said after Friday's victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I think I go down K Street. How do I get to K Street?"

Negotiating the tricky one-way roads of the nation's capital might be a challenge, but Johnson needs no GPS when it comes to managing. Yes, in a way they were the same old woeful-hitting, decent-pitching Nationals, who now have played an incredible 11 games since June 1 in which is the final score has been 2-1, 2-0 or 1-0.

But a closer look at the box score shows some subtle differences under Johnson, who is 1-3 as interim manager since accepting the job following Jim Riggleman's abrupt resignation last week.

For one thing, he let Tom Gorzelanny pitch seven innings on a humid night.

The left-hander, who had lost four straight starts, rewarded his manager's trust with by finishing strong, striking out the last two batters he faced.

"I told all the other starters they're going to be on a longer leash with me," Johnson said. "I'm expecting more out of them. I know all your guys were up there second-guessing me. ... I go the extra yard for them. I want them to know that. I want to give him an opportunity to win."

Instead, Gorzelanny became the latest Nationals starter to have a solid outing fail to make a positive dent in the won-loss record. He finished with eight strikeouts, yielding an unearned run and six hits. He became the second straight Washington starter to not allow an unearned run without getting the win - Jordan Zimmermann took a 1-0 loss on Wednesday.

Johnson's other leap of faith was using Matt Stairs as a pinch hitter with the game tied in the ninth. The 43-year-old veteran has struggled at the plate all year, hitting just .132 entering the game. He was 4 for 32 with no RBIs as a pinch hitter.

Stairs delivered, driving an 0-1 pitch from Tim Wood (0-3) off the right-field wall to score pinch-runner Alex Cora.

"I have a lot of confidence in Matt. I wanted to get him going," Johnson said.

"I think he can hit falling out of bed. That's the kind of situation that turns him on. One out, the winning run on third, he's the guy I'd like up there, even if he's hitting .080."

Michael Morse led off the ninth with a grounder that hit the pitching rubber and continued up the middle for a single. With Danny Espinosa squared to bunt, Wood threw well inside for a wild pitch that sent Morse to second.

Espinosa was intentionally walked, then Cora - running for Morse - advanced to third on Wilson Ramos' flyout to right.

Stairs then provided the latest dramatic win for the Nationals, who are outscoring opponents 56-25 from the ninth inning onward.

A further indication of the type of games Washington plays: Closer Drew Storen (5-2) pitched the ninth and got another win instead of a save.

Pirates starter Charlie Morton was also effective, allowing three hits over 5 2-3 innings. His only mistake was a first-pitch fastball that Roger Bernadina deposited in the center-field stands leading off the sixth, the first homer given up by the right-hander in 69 1-3 innings.

Pittburgh's lone run came in the third after Gorzelanny mishandled Morton's bunt following Michael McKenry's leadoff single. McKenry took third on Gorzelanny's throw and scored on Alex Presley's groundout.

The Nationals were poised to take the lead with two on and nobody out in the eighth, but Chris Resop came in and shut them down. Rick Ankiel led off the inning with a single off Daniel Moskos, and Bernadina reached on an error attempting to sacrifice. Moskos was then relieved by Resop, who struck out Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman looking and Laynce Nix swinging.

But, with his bullpen close to empty, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle went to the ninth with Wood, who had thrown only 7 2-3 innings all season.

"Resop and (Jose) Veras have been in 40 games. They can't pitch every night. I've got to have other guys contribute. Also, I felt he could get them out," Hurdle said. "You've got to pick your poison on where you want to go from there."

NOTES: The Pirates (41-40) again failed to get three games over .500. They are 0-7 this season when two games over. ... 1B Morse made his first error in 215 games on a bad toss to Gorzelanny on a grounder in the third inning. His last error came on Aug. 15, 2005. ... Pirates 2B Neil Walker, who missed the previous game with a sore back, entered as a late-inning sub. ... Pittsburgh OF Xavier Paul did not start for the third straight game due to right hamstring tightness. ... Nick Leyva, who normally coaches third base for the Pirates, has a back injury. For the second straight game, Luis Silverio coached third and Mark Strittmatter was at first. ... The Nationals also had a different face coaching first. Trent Jewett took over for Dan Radison, who was fired in the latest shakeup following Johnson's hiring. Friday was also the first game for Pat Corrales as Washington's new bench coach. Corrales takes over for John McLaren, who is now a scout.