WASHINGTON - For a kid who's still only 20 and had yet to hit a game-ending homer in his nascent career, Bryce Harper sure inspired a lot of confidence in his teammates as he walked to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
"You could feel it. You could just feel it in the dugout," reliever Ian Krol said. "You know something special's going to happen when you put him in that kind of situation."
The score was tied Thursday, a man was on base, and Harper was hoping to do something to avert a devastating loss. They were 0-6 since the All-Star break and had already blown a substantial lead against the Pirates.
Precisely as Krol and other Nationals anticipated, Harper delivered. He hit a two-run shot over the wall to the left of straightaway center, lifting Washington over Pittsburgh 9-7 for a late-July victory that felt pivotal to the Nationals.
"Great to get the 'W' today. We really needed it," said Harper, who sat out Wednesday because of a bothersome left knee that had put him on the disabled list until July 1, the last time he homered. "Hopefully this one will carry on into tomorrow and the next day."
Harper raised his right fist overhead as he rounded first base and was mobbed by a bouncing pack of teammates as he reached home plate after his homer off Bryan Morris (4-4).
"It's kind of sometimes like pickup basketball," said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, who like Nationals skipper Davey Johnson was ejected on a wild afternoon that included three errors by Pirates infielders in the first inning. "They had the ball last."
Krol (1-0) earned his first major-league win despite being part of poor relief in the ninth that allowed the Pirates to erase a four-run deficit. The Nationals blew leads of 4-0 and 7-3, the latter when closer Rafael Soriano was charged with four runs while getting only one out. He walked the first two batters, then gave up Jordy Mercer's run-scoring double and Russell Martin's RBI single. Until then, the Pirates were 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position.