Josh Bell downplayed the significance of facing his former team prior to the Nationals’ three-game set with the Pittsburg Pirates. He let his bat do the talking instead, leaving his mark on the series with a two-run homer in the eighth inning Wednesday that proved to be the difference in a 3-1 win.
Bell said after the game that his parents were in attendance to watch him play for the first time in two years. He delivered with a 2-for-3 day, raising his season batting average to .223 and OPS to .716. Both numbers are the highest they've been since Opening Day, when he began the season by going 1-for-3 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I’m really proud of these guys for staying true to who they really are,” Nationals manager Davey Martinez said on a Zoom call after the game. “Some of these guys that we brought in this year, this is the reason why we brought them in because we knew that they’re winners, they wanna win and they play the game the right way. You see that today, Josh Bell, he…hit a big homer for us, that was awesome.”
The Nationals entered the eighth inning up 1-0, with the only run of the game coming courtesy of a Yan Gomes home run in the second. Spot starter Paolo Espino blanked the Pirates for five frames before handing the ball over to the bullpen. Washington’s lead was razor thin and the bullpen, missing key setup man Daniel Hudson, was looking for some insurance runs.
After Pirates reliever Jacob Stallings retired the first two batters, Juan Soto drew a walk to bring up Bell. He launched a 390-foot homer on the second pitch, depositing the ball a few rows into the right field seats. It was his ninth home run of the year, which broke a tie with his 2020 total.
Bell’s homer proved to be pivotal when Kyle Finnegan gave up a run in the bottom half of the frame. Nationals manager Davey Martinez brought in Brad Hand for the five-out save and he converted, though not before allowing a pair of two-out hits in the ninth. The home run also preserved Espino’s first career win, a significant achievement for a player that spent 11 years in the minors.
With the win, the Nationals moved to 30-35 on the season. They will ride a four-game winning streak into their weekend series against the New York Mets.