Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte (6), Andrew McCutchen (22) and Adam Frazier (26) celebrate their win over the Washington Nationals in a baseball game, Sunday, July 17, 2016, in Washington. The Pirates won 2-1 in 18 innings. (Nick Wass/AP Photo)
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WASHINGTON - After more than five hours of baseball between his Pittsburgh Pirates and the Washington Nationals, Starling Marte had all he could take.
"Too many innings," Marte said. "We were tired. It was time for a home run."
Marte's solo home run off Oliver Perez in the 18th inning on Sunday gave the Pirates a 2-1 victory in a marathon game that was the longest for both teams this season. The only longer game in the majors this season came July 1 when Cleveland beat Toronto in 19 innings.
"I just love the grit of our club," said manager Clint Hurdle, whose Pirates snapped a three-game losing streak and avoided a series sweep. "I don't know if it builds character. It definitely reveals character."
It took 17 pitchers combining for 540 pitches in a bullpen- and stadium-emptying affair that lasted 5 hours, 48 minutes. It was close to ending a lot earlier — the Nationals were down to their last strike in the ninth inning when pinch hitter Daniel Murphy hit a tying home run.
By the time the 1:35 p.m. start ended at 7:23 p.m., stellar outings by Pittsburgh's Chad Kuhl and Washington's Max Scherzer felt like a distant memory.
Kuhl allowed one hit and two runners and struck out five in six shutout innings. Hurdle said it was the outing Kuhl expected out of himself after some struggles, and the right-hander rewarded the organization for giving him the nod when Jonathon Niese was demoted to the bullpen.
Scherzer wasn't too bad himself, giving up one run and six hits and struck out seven in seven efficient innings. The homer by an injured Murphy took Scherzer off the hook for what would've been his second loss in a 1-0 game in three starts.
"We were in the middle of a pitchers' duel and when it is like that, every little thing is amplified," Scherzer said.
Murphy, who was out of the lineup for the third consecutive day with a sore left hamstring, took All-Star closer Mark Melancon deep on a 2-2 cutter with two outs in the ninth.
Murphy leads the majors in hitting, and connected for his 18th home run. He sent the game to extra innings, where it turned into a battle of attrition.
The Pirates should have taken the lead in the 16th on a double by Josh Harrison, but a perfect relay from Washington center fielder Michael A. Taylor to shortstop Danny Espinosa to catcher Wilson Ramos was good enough to get Eric Fryer at the plate.
"How about the relay they had in the 16th inning?" Hurdle said in amazement. "It's the best relay in the history of the game in the 16th inning. Ever."
That relay kept the game going and forced Niese (8-6) into duty on back-to-back days. That's not how Hurdle drew it up, but he became the winning pitcher when Marte deposited a pitch from Perez (2-3) into the left-field seats.
"I felt good in (my) first inning and I was kind of running on fumes there in the second," said Niese, who tossed three hitless innings. "And then when Marte hit that home run it kind of gave me an extra boost of energy to finish it up."
Marte's seventh home run of the season came on a swing the Nationals didn't even want him to get. With Niese on deck, Washington manager Dusty Baker wanted to intentionally walk Marte but couldn't get the signal to Ramos in time, and it proved costly.
"That was my fault because I didn't put the (four) fingers up in time soon enough to walk him," Baker said. "Before I could, he hit the first pitch out of the ballpark."
Pirates: OF Gregory Polanco remained out with a sore left hamstring, but general manager Neal Huntington hopes he'll play Tuesday against the Milwaukee Brewers. ... C Francisco Cervelli was set to play another inning on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis, and Huntington said "we'll see" about him being back as soon as Tuesday.
Nationals: 3B Anthony Rendon was scratched with flu-like symptoms. Baker said Rendon was "sick as a dog." ... LHP Sammy Solis will be placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a right knee injury.
The Pirates successfully challenged two plays on the bases in the sixth. After a 91-second review in the top half, Marte was awarded his 32nd stolen base of the season, and Espinosa was called out on a steal attempt in the bottom half after a 31-second review.
"They both played out extremely big for us, there's no doubt about it," said Hurdle, who credited video coordinator Kevin Roach. "It was another example of why we have a replay."
Pirates: After an off-day Monday, top pitching prospect Jameson Taillon (2-1, 3.86 ERA) is expected to start Tuesday at PNC Park against the Brewers. RHP Chase Anderson (4-10, 5.44) is scheduled to start the series opener for Milwaukee.
Nationals: With RHP Joe Ross not ready to come off the disabled list, RHP Reynaldo Lopez will make his major league debut against Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Scott Kazmir (7-3, 4.52).