PITTSBURGH -- There are 162 games in a baseball season and the monotony can sometimes breed mundane. The one contested between the Pirates and Nationals Saturday night at PNC Park was different from the beginning and did not disappoint the sellout crowd of 38,889 that came to watch two of the premier power pitchers in the game square off for the first time.
For only the third time in a decade, Major League baseball fans were treated to former No. 1 draft picks dueling on the mound, and right-handed pitchers Gerritt Cole and Stephen Strasburg lived up to the hype.
The Pirates broke open the pitchers' duel in the bottom of the seventh with two runs and went on to a 3-2 victory. They will go for the four-game sweep of the Nationals Sunday afternoon.
Strasburg had a 2-1 lead and had allowed just four hits through the first six innings. But the Pirates tied the score on a sacrifice fly by Jose Tabata and then grabbed the lead when Josh Harrison singled home Starling Marte in the bottom of the seventh.
Strasburg intentionally walked pinch hitter Travis Snider to get to Harrison. Snider stepped to the plate with a .214 average. Harrison, by contrast, entered the game with a .333 average in the month of May, and he promptly singled up the middle for the go-ahead run.
Jared Hughes threw one inning and was awarded the victory, his third of the season. Mark Melancon pitched the ninth inning to pick up the save.
Strasburg, the first pick of the 2009 draft, took the loss. He threw 110 pitches, allowed three runs, seven hits and struck out seven.
Cole, the first pick of the 2011 draft, gave up two runs in six innings. He threw a career-high 112 pitches, struck out seven and allowed five hits. He walked three, hit a batter and stranded eight Nationals on the bases, including three in the fifth.
The Nationals got on the board first when shortstop Ian Desmond parked a 0-1 pitch into the left-centerfield bleachers for a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
In the bottom half of the fourth, the Pirates answered with a home run of their own to tie the score. Neil Walker caught up to a high fastball and hit his 10th home run of the season to make it 1-1.
Strasburg had faced the minimum numbers of batters in the first three innings. The only base runner had been Russell Martin, who was hit by a pitch, but he was erased when Pedro Alvarez hit into an inning-ending double play in the second.
Alvarez had a chance to add onto the Pirates lead later in the fourth. After Walker homered, Ike Davis walked and Martin singled to right, but Alvarez struck out to end the frame.
The Nationals retook the lead in the top of the fifth inning after Wilson Ramos' bloop single scored Anthony Rendon. Cole retired the first two hitters he faced in the fifth, but the next four batters reached base. With the bases loaded, he coaxed Greg Dobbs to ground out to Davis to end the inning.
The Pirates got a leadoff single from Starling Marte in the bottom of the fifth, but he was caught stealing. Marte pulled up before Ramos' throw reached the bag and was tagged out two steps from the base, standing up. Strasburg then got the next two batters to strike out to end the inning.
Marte atoned for the base-running error when he doubled off the right-centerfield wall in the bottom of the seventh. That put runners on second and third with one out. Tabata's sacrifice fly scored Martin, who had singled to lead off the inning.
Hughes relieved Cole in the seventh inning and retired the Nationals in order. Jeanmar Gomez pitched the eighth, getting the Nations to go down in order on only six pitches.
The previous time two former No. 1 picks faced each other in the National League was 2005, when Kris Benson faced Paul Wilson. In 2012, David Price and Luke Hovechar squared off in an American League game.
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