Losing streaks never end without a struggle — especially in a pennant race.
In a tense contest full of dramatic twists and turns, first time happenings, clutch hitting and pitching, and Bryce Harper being ejected in a game after he hit two home runs, the Washington Nationals ended their five-game losing streak with an 8-4 victory over the Miami Marlins. Combined with the Atlanta Braves loss to the Sand Diego Padres, the Nationals now lead the National League East Division by 5 games.
The game turned in the bottom of the 8th inning thanks to a classic escape act from Drew Storen. He entered the game after Sean Burnett surrendered a single and double, leaving Marlins on 2nd and 3rd base with no outs. Thanks to a Michael Morse clutch 2-out RBI single in the top of the frame, the Nats led 6-4. With the heart of the Marlins order — Carlos Lee, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Ruggiano due up — Ozzie Guillen’s club looked poised for a comeback.
Storen, the former Nationals closer, his season marred by injury, delivered one of the finest performances of his young career, certainly the biggest. His slider up in the zone, but moving, Lee lined out to Harper in center, to shallow to score the runner. Stanton lined a ball just foul during his at-bat, but Storen struck him out on a slider. Ruggiano grounded a 1-2 pitch to Ryan Zimmerman for the third out. Storen’s magic turned tense looks to smiles in the Nationals dugout.
After Harper’s two home runs, the second a more than 450 foot tape measure shot, aided by a Morse RBI triple and an Ian Desmond single to drive in a run, the Nationals had a seemingly comfortable 5-1 lead after five innings. Ross Detwiler(8-6), who earned the win tonight, appeared to be cruising.
But late August games, especially after five consecutive defeats, rarely have stress free endings. The Marlins rallied for two runs n the 6th against Detwiler and had their star hitter, Stanton at the plate representing the tying run. Ryan Mattheus entered and continued his fine season, fanning Stanton on four pitches to end the inning with the Nats in front, 5-3.
Mattheus allowed a run in the 7th on a Gregg Dobbs sacrifice fly. Suddenly, the Marlins trailed by a single run. The stage was set for Storen.
After the harrowing 8th, the Nationals added two more insurance runs and achieve two first-time occurrences. The happy first was catcher Kurt Suzuki‘s lead-off home run, giving Washington a 7-4 lead. The round tripper was Suzuki’s first as a Nationals. The unfathomable second first was Harper being ejected by first base umpire CB Bucknor. After grounding into a double play, Harper slammed his helmet to the ground in a display of completely unnecessary immaturity. The youngsters ejection marked the first time any Nationals manager, coach or player had been ejected from a game.
Before Harper’s histrionics, Jayson Werth scored Steve Lombardozzi, who entered the game on a double switch when Mattheus relieved Detwiler, for the game’s final margin. Tyler Clippard, in probably the most important non-save situation of his career, retired the Marlins in order on five drama free pitches.
The Nationals had their first victory in a week, gained a game in the standings, and head home for their next 11 games as the first pennant race in 80 years returns to the nation’s capital.
Champ of the Game: Storen, who looked as strong as he has all season when his team needed it the most. Harper was going to share the “champ” mantle, but forfeited it with his selfish 9th inning antics.
For the Marlins, Donovan Solano went 3-4 and scored a run. Only the Marlins 1-9 performance with runners in scoring position, a subtle but crucial stat tonight as the Nats went 3-5, prevented him from scoring three times.
Chump of the Game: Burnett, who nearly blew the first Washington lead in six games in the 8th inning. Zimmerman’s matador attempt on the second hit, which ended up a double, did not help Washington’s only ineffective pitcher.
Unsung Hero: Morse, who went 2-4 with a triple and two clutch RBI’s. His three-bagger would have been a home run in nearly every other ballpark save the Marlins monstrosity.
For Miami, Heath Bell, having a disastrous year, surrendered two 9th inning runs that allowed the nervous Nationals and Clippard to relax and easily close out their 78th win.
For Miami, former Nat Chad Gaudin pitched a scoreless 7th, giving his club a chance to come back.
Next Game: Tomorrow night, August 30, 7:05 p.m. at National Park. It doesn’t get easier for Washington. The St. Louis Cardinals, the NL’s best hitting team (despite being shut out for the second consecutive game tonight against the Pittsburgh Pirates) come to town for a four game set. It marks the first of seven times the two teams will meet in the latter stage of the season. Edwin Jackon (7-9, 3.72) faces his former team and left-hander Jaime Garcia (3-5, 4.15).