PITTSBURGH -- The sacrifice bunt by one of the NL's hottest hitters surprised the Pittsburgh Pirates and led to Washington's decisive four-run 11th inning. Turns out it startled Nationals manager Frank Robinson even more.
Nick Johnson drove in two runs with a tiebreaking double in the 11th and the Nationals avoided a second consecutive series sweep by rallying to beat the Pirates 8-4 Sunday.
Washington ended a five-game losing streak and denied the Pirates their first three-game series sweep since they took three from the Reds on July 23-25, 2004. Pittsburgh did sweep a four-game series against the Brewers earlier this season.
Marlon Anderson started the 11th with a pinch-hit double off Roberto Hernandez (0-3), the seventh of Pittsburgh's eight pitchers. Hernandez then threw wildly on Alfonso Soriano sacrifice bunt to put runners on first and third.
"I didn't expect him to bunt there, especially on the first pitch," said Hernandez, who rushed his throw on the play after checking on the runner headed for third.
Soriano hit his 29th homer and fifth in 10 games during a three-hit day, and the All-Star outfielder was not ordered to bunt by Robinson.
"I don't want to talk about that bunt. I haven't recovered from the shock yet," Robinson said. "He's trying to help the ballclub win and get that guy to third base. But he has to realize how tough it's been for us to get that guy in. ... I wanted him to take a shot there."
Soriano explained the Nationals were struggling -- they had trouble hitting with runners on base the entire series -- and he felt any run would be a big one.
"I'm trying to be a good teammate and help the team to win. I was trying to get the runner over," Soriano said.
Felipe Lopez struck out but, after Jose Vidro was intentionally walked, Johnson doubled on a 3-2 pitch after fouling off six pitches. Johnson hit .417 with eight RBI against the Pirates this season.
"I just trying to get that run in from third," said Johnson, who had struck out with two on in the ninth in his previous at-bat.
Washington managed to win once in the series even though the two players acquired from the Reds during the All-Star break, Felipe Lopez and Austin Kearns, contributed little. Lopez was 1-for-13 and left 17 runners on base in the three games and Kearns was 1-for-12 and left 13 on, including eight Sunday.
"That's why Nick's at-bat was good for the whole ballclub, because we've been struggling in those situations," Robinson said.
The Nationals rallied from a 3-0 deficit on Soriano's homer and pinch-hitter Alex Escobar's tying two-run drive as starter Livan Hernandez and five relievers held the Pirates to a run over the last 10 innings. Sean Casey had singled in two runs and Freddy Sanchez also drove in a run in the Pirates' first.
"He knows how to pitch and make adjustments and if you're going to get him, you have to add on quickly," Pirates manager Jim Tracy said of Livan Hernandez.
Mike Stanton (2-5) pitched a scoreless 10th for the victory and Jon Rauch finished up in the 11th, a day after his pregnant wife, Erica, was involved in a minor traffic accident. Because Rauch was worried and spent most of Saturday on the phone, he was not available to pitch that night.
Pirates left-hander Paul Maholm, 1-4 over his last eight starts, held the Nationals to a run over six innings before Escobar's homer tied it. Escobar is 6-for-6 with two homers and six RBI in his last three games.
Hernandez didn't allow a runner past second base over his final five innings, giving up three runs and seven hits over six innings.
Maholm also gave up seven hits and three runs, over 6 1/3 innings, and has fewer victories (2) in 19 starts this season than the three he had in his first six career starts last season.
Washington was swept in three games by San Diego immediately before the All-Star break. ... Escobar's homer was his 11th in the majors and first as a pinch hitter. ... Casey is 13-of-25 (.520) in his career against Hernandez. ... Nationals starting pitchers are winless in their last nine games. ... Washington 3B Ryan Zimmerman ran his hitting streak to 14 with two singles. ... Livan Hernandez's first start after the All-Star game was backed up two days to Sunday because of a sore right knee.