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Old Friends Rod Barajas, A.J. Burnett Fuel Dramatic Walk-Off Win for Pittsburgh Pirates

In what proved to be the most exciting game of the 2012 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Bucs defeated the Washington Nationals 5-4 on Tuesday night.

Plenty of storylines resulted from last night’s game, but I’ll start with center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who hit his first home run of the year tonight off Nationals starter Edwin Jackson.

McCutchen has been dealing with a stomach virus and has only played sparingly over the past few days. He went 1-2 with two walks and the solo shot tonight. Seems likes he’s feeling better. Hopefully he can pick up the power and build upon his .302 season average.

The starting pitching matchup was actually an overlooked storyline itself.

Over the winter, the Pirates expressed interest in then-free agent Jackson, going so far as to offer Jackson a three-year contract to play in Pittsburgh. Pirates bloggers and fans even started an #EJaxToBucs campaign/hashtag on Twitter, showing their desire for the 28-year-old to come and pitch for the Pirates.

Jackson ultimately turned down the deal to take a one-year contract to pitch for the Nationals, and so the Pirates turned to Plan B: A.J. Burnett.

The Bucs would acquire Burnett in a trade with the New York Yankees and, as fate would have it, the two faced off in PNC Park last night.

It’s hard to declare a winner of the duel. Jackson went 7 innings, giving up two runs (both home runs) on three hits. He walked one but struck out a measly five batters.

Burnett lasted 8 innings and also allowed two runs. He allowed twice as many hits (6) and also walked one, but struck out twice as many batters (10).

A.J.’s outing was also a nice bounce back from the 12 runs in 2.1 innings he allowed last time out.

The final and biggest storylines of the night came as the ballgame drew to a close.

Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan entered the game with a one-run lead in the ninth inning, only to allow a single to Ryan Zimmerman and a subsequent home run – the 1,000th in Nationals history – to the red-hot Adam LaRoche. Manager Clint Hurdle yanked the generally reliable Hanrahan after recording two outs and brought in lefty Tony Watson, who got the third out of the inning.

Down a run and likely some spirit in the bottom of the ninth, Casey McGehee flew out to lead off the inning. Alex Presley singled in his pinch hit at bat before Yamaico Navarro struck out swinging to bring up catcher Rod Barajas with one out remaining in the game.

To that point, Barajas was hitting .133 on the season with exactly zero home runs or RBI. His OBP sat at just .200. Despite Presley swiping second and third base on back-to-back wild pitches from Nationals closer Henry Rodriguez, the PNC Park crowd of about 1,000 had likely – and understandably – given up most hope with the game in Barajas’ hands.

Inevitably, the last predicted outcome came out. Barajas pulled a ball over the left field wall and trotted the bases with his teammates waiting for him at home.

A walk-off win thanks to A.J. Burnett, a blown save from Joel Hanrahan, and Rod Barajas. Such a phrase was considered unthinkable a mere 24 hours ago.

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff

Obligatory Bryce Harper update: the rookie phenom went 1-for-4 tonight while batting second.