The Washington Nationals were having one of the best road trips in their mostly sad history and, if major league baseball games were five innings long, would have continued their winning ways in Miami and their iconic new stadium.
Unfortunately, tonight, as they did yesterday, the Nationals played some of their poorest baseball of the season in the sixth through ninth innings and lost their second consecutive game and the series to their long-time nemesis, the Miami Marlins, 3-1.
The first five innings featured a taut display of pitching excellence from Miami’s Anibal Sanchez, whom the Nats have never beaten, and Washington’s Edwin Jackson, who once again took a hard-luck loss, dropping his record to 1-3. Through five innings, both pitchers had allowed a single hit apiece.
As they so often do against the Nationals, the Marlins stormed back, tying the game in the 6th on a Giancarlo Stanton RBI double with two out. Bryce Harper slammed a 2-out triple in the Nats’ 6th, but was left there on a Ryan Zimmerman ground out.
The Nationals came completely unglued after that. In the 7th, with one out and a runner on first, Jackson fired a pickoff throw into right field. Pinch hitter Greg Dobbs accepted the gift, lining a sacrifice fly to left to give the Marlins the lead, 2-1. Brown’s excellent throw was just a hair late and off-line.
The Nationals loaded the bases with one out in the 8th inning against Miami set-up man Steve Cishek. Cishek walked Danny Espinosa and Stephen Lombardozzi, but Harper swung at all three pitches he threw and struck out. Zimmerman completed the stunning meltdown by grounding out weakly to third.
It took only one pitch for the Marlins to punish the Nationals for their failures and put the game away. Hanley Ramirez crushed Craig Stammen‘s first pitch of the home 8th into the left field bleachers for the game’s final margin. The Marlins’ 20th victory in May moves them a scant 1.5 games behind Washington. Everyone else in the division trails by four games or fewer.
The Nationals did have a few morsels of good news — Brown’s squeeze gave him his first career RBI and catcher Jhonatan Solano, in his debut, earned his first major league hit with a 2-out double in the 9th against Heath Bell, who earned his ninth save in 13 tries.
Champ of the Game: Sanchez, who remained undefeated against the Nationals with 7 innings of stellar pitching. It looked like, as they did earlier in D.C., the Nats might earn a win against the Marlins’ bullpen, but it was not to be tonight.
For the Nationals, Jackson, as he has many times this season, pitched well enough to win, but received little run support and made a crucial error at the worst possible time.
Chump of the Game: Zimmerman, who twice failed with 2-out opportunities to break the choke hold the Marlins have had over the Nationals since 2006. Harper’s bases loaded at bat was also the epitome of a rookie trying to do too much in a key situation.
Cishek looked like he might earn the honor for Miami, but he performed an impressive escape act against Washington’s two best and hottest hitters.
Unsung Hero: Desmond has two hits, a stolen base and disguised the suicide squeeze perfectly, scoring easily from third.
For the Marlins, Chris Coghlan singled against Jackson to set up the game’s key play – the 2-base error that moved him in position to score the game winning run.
Next Game: The Nationals conclude their tough 9-game road trip and try to avoid a dispiriting sweep as Chien-Ming Wang (1-0, 3.00) makes his first start of 2012 against Josh Johnson (2-3, 4.87). Game time is 7:10 p.m.at Marlins Park.