By HOWARD FENDRICH
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON - Pirates lefty reliever Tony Watson is not accustomed to giving up homers to left-handed batters.
He hadn't allowed one since 2012.
That's right: Zero homers off Watson by guys swinging from the left side in a total of 161 at-bats in 2013 and 2014 combined. Until Pittsburgh's 4-3 loss to the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, that is.
That's when Watson gave up all of a 3-0 lead in the eighth inning, capped by left-handed hitter Adam LaRoche's game-tying two-run homer with two outs. And then another Pirates lefty, Justin Wilson (3-3), walked Bryce Harper leading off the ninth, threw a wild pitch that put the winning run at second base, and served up Wilson Ramos' RBI ground-rule double to end Pittsburgh's fourth loss in a row.
"It's never good for the club - especially the position we're in right now, pushing hard," Watson said. "It's 'go time.'"
The Pirates' recent skid dropped them to third place in the NL Central, behind the Brewers and Cardinals.
Watson began his appearance by walking rookie pinch-hitter Michael Taylor, then giving up singles to Denard Span and Kevin Frandsen that made it 3-1. After a double play, Watson faced LaRoche, who drove a 1-0 pitch into the home bullpen. Reliever Drew Storen, who was warming up, caught the ball on the fly.
Watson said he followed the same pitch sequence against LaRoche on Saturday as he had Friday.
"Yeah," Watson acknowledged, "it was dumb."
In the ninth, with Wilson in, Bryce Harper checked his swing at a 3-1 pitch and went about halfway down the first-base line, figuring he had a leadoff walk. But plate umpire Mark Wegner had called the pitch a strike. Harper eventually paused, turned around, got back in the batter's box - and walked on the next pitch.
After Harper took second on a wild pitch, Ramos hit a ball that sailed over right fielder Gregory Polanco's head and bounced into the home bullpen to win it.
Helped, too, that Washington got four innings of scoreless relief after starter Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs and departed after 102 pitches in five innings.
Craig Stammen got nine outs - "Just carving," Harper said - before Matt Thornton (1-0) earned the win with a 1-2-3 ninth, getting a pair of strikeouts on 96 mph fastballs.
"They believe that they can come back, they believe that they can string hits together and we can score runs, and that's a good thing to have," Williams said. "That belief system is good."
Pirates: CF Andrew McCutchen, last season's NL MVP, ran the bases and hit before Saturday's game as he works his way back from a broken rib that put him on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to Aug. 4. ... Manager Clint Hurdle said RHP Gerrit Cole "passed all the tests" during a minor league rehab start and should be ready to come off the DL within the next week. Hurdle said the team hasn't decided which pitcher will be replaced by Cole in the rotation - or whether that pitcher will shift to the bullpen. "Whatever needs to be done is what needs to be done," said LHP Jeff Locke, who threw 5 2-3 scoreless innings Saturday, "and everyone knows that (Cole is) going to be a staple in this rotation for a long time."
Nationals: RF Jayson Werth sat out a fifth consecutive game because of a bothersome right shoulder. Williams, who initially hoped to have Werth back Sunday, said the outfielder was "a little tender" after doing a full workout Saturday. "So if we have to take another day after today, we may have to do that," Williams said.
In the series finale, Nationals RHP Doug Fister (12-3, 2.34 ERA) faces Pirates RHP Edinson Volquez (10-7, 3.67 ERA). Fister has won six of his last seven starts; Volquez has won six of his last seven decisions.
WHAT A PLAY
Pirates LF Travis Snider made a head-first, all-out, diving catch to rob Harper of a hit with a man on in the fifth.