PITTSBURGH — On a night when the Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, the Pittsburgh Pirates played like anything but a championship-caliber team.
The Pirates trailed 3-0 before committing three errors — wild throws by catcher Francisco Cervelli, shortstop Sean Rodriguez and rookie second baseman Adam Frazier — in the fourth inning that led to three unearned runs in a 6-1 loss to the Nationals on Saturday night.
That helped lead to Ivan Nova (12-8) losing his second straight start, giving up six runs and eight hits in four innings. He had gone 5-0 in his first eight starts after being acquired from the New York Yankees on Aug. 1 in a trade.
“I take pride in my defense and not making errors,” Frazier said. “It makes me madder than anybody else. Nova’s working his butt off out there and in a tough play in a big situation, we kind of let him down.”
Nova, though, refused to blame his defense.
“You’re the one that gave up those runs,” he said. “Personally, it’s not what you want and it hurts the team, too. You don’t want to give up any type of runs, earned or unearned.”
Pittsburgh lost for the just the third time in 10 games but fell four games out of the second NL wild card with eight games remaining.
Stephen Drew’s two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.
Rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez (4-3) gave up three hits while striking out five in 5 1/3 scoreless innings after entering the game to start the bottom of the fourth inning with a five-run lead. He was removed with a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.
Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals fans behind the visiting dugout cheered.
Joe Ross allowed one run and five hits over 2 2/3 innings in his second start since missing 2 1/2 months with right shoulder inflammation.
The Nationals won the division in Dusty Baker’s first season as manager. He was hired to replace Matt Williams, who was fired following a 2015 season that began with high hopes of Washington reaching the World Series for the first time in franchise history.
Baker had been out of the game for two years after being fired by the Cincinnati Reds following the 2013 season, four days after they lost to the Pirates in the NL wild-card game.
“That’s what I came here for,” Baker said, standing in a corner of the clubhouse and watching his players celebrate. “I’m telling you — let these young men have a great time tonight, back to work tomorrow. First step in a four-step process. This step is the hardest to get. I’m just so happy for these guys. I love them. I love this team.”
Drew’s single came after Bryce Harper’s sacrifice fly. Harper also drove in a run with a grounder in the fourth while Jayson Werth hit into a run-scoring forceout and Anthony Rendon had a sacrifice fly.
Wilson Ramos had three hits for the Nationals, and Drew and Werth added two each.
Rookie Josh Bell homered in the third.
“I thought (Nova) was getting into a nice spot going into the fourth inning and we more or less took him out of the game with our defense,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Nationals: Drew was taking the place of 2B Daniel Murphy (strained glute), who did not start for the sixth game in a row.
Pirates: RF Gregory Polanco (facial bruise) sat out a day after being injured while running in the fence while chasing a fly ball. … LF Starling Marte (back strain) was not in the starting lineup for the 17h time in the last 18 games. … SS Jordy Mercer (right forearm discomfort) did not start for a third consecutive game.
Nationals: Rookie RHP A.J. Cole (1-2, 4.68 ERA) will start Sunday in the finale of the three-game series.
Pirates: RHP Tyler Glasnow (0-2, 4.11) will make his third career start and first since July 23. The rookie was placed on the disabled list the following day with shoulder inflammation and has made three relief appearances since being activated Aug. 28.