WASHINGTON -- They waited out a two-hour-plus rain delay, a procession of nine pitchers and a glut of squandered opportunities.
But when Jose Guillen delivered a run-scoring double in the eighth inning, the Washington Nationals were in even better shape than when they started the long evening.
A tenuous 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates before an RFK Stadium crowd of 31,213 helped the Nationals improve their lead in the National League East to 3 1/2 games over the Atlanta Braves, who lost last night in 13 innings to the Florida Marlins.
The Nationals have won 14 of their past 15 games at RFK and claimed their 20th win in one-run games. They produced this one with a run in the eighth against Pittsburgh reliever Salomon Torres.
Carlos Baerga started the rally with a one-out, pinch single, and Brad Wilkerson walked. Torres struck out Junior Spivey, but Guillen drilled a shot off third baseman Rob Mackowiak's foot and down into foul territory in left, scoring Baerga with the go-ahead run.
Closer Chad Cordero, the fifth of five Washington pitchers, set down the Pirates in the ninth to collect his 27th save of the season, and the 24th consecutive save for a franchise record.
Both managers dipped liberally into their bullpens in the low-scoring affair. Pirates manager Lloyd McLendon pulled his starter, Dave Williams, in the third inning after the rain delay, necessitating the procession of relievers.
Nationals manager Frank Robinson let his starter, John Patterson, pitch after the delay and immediately paid for it. Mackowiak crushed Patterson's first pitch after the break into the mezzanine level in right for a two-run homer and 2-1 lead in the third.
It was a game filled with a little of everything. Two runners, one for each team, were thrown out at the plate. Three batters were hit by pitches and another -- Guillen -- was knocked down.
If there were bad blood, it started when Pittsburgh's Ryan Vogelsong hit Spivey high on the left thigh in the fourth inning to load the bases. Guillen, up next, went down on a high and tight pitch. He then walked to force in the tying run.
Vogelsong, a right-handed pitcher, was hit in his left shoulder when he came to bat in the fifth. He did not attempt to get out of the way in what would be Patterson's final inning.
The scariest incident came in the top of the eighth, when a pitch from Washington reliever Luis Ayala hit Humberto Cote in the shoulder and head. Cote stayed down for a few minutes but stayed in the game.
There were plenty of scoring opportunities for each team.
The Pirates were just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, and until Guillen's big hit in the eighth, the Nationals were 0-for-8.
Washington produced its first two runs on a sacrifice fly and the bases-loaded walk. The sacrifice fly, by Marlon Byrd, came after a first-inning double by Spivey, an infield error and a walk had loaded the bases.
RFK's grounds crew had a tough night, drawing taunts and boos from the crowd as it waited through the rain delay. The crew was overmatched trying to get the tarp on the field and never managed to cover the dirt along the third base line.
It took nearly an hour to make the field playable after the delay.