In a night overshadowed by innings-limit controversy, the Nats demonstrated just why no lead is safe against them.
The team fell into a 6-2 hole early thanks to a shaky Stephen Strasburg, but clawed back to tie it before faltering in extras, as the Nationals (85-53) dropped the first game of their series with the Miami Marlins, 9-7, in Strasburg’s final home start of the season.
Tonight’s game came on the heels of a dominant five-game winning streak, highlighted by a four-game sweep of the lowly Cubs in which the Nationals outscored Chicago 31-9, hitting six home runs in each of the last two games. The night’s biggest storyline, however, was that tonight was scheduled to be Strasburg’s final start of the 2012 season, as he approaches his team-imposed 160-IP limit. The shutdown clearly loomed over him, as he submitted one of his worst outings this season, allowing five runs on six hits and three walks in only three innings. The poor showing rose his ERA to 3.14, which puts him at fourth in the rotation, ahead of only Edwin Jackson.
After Strasburg was pulled, he was replaced by Zach Duke, who made his season debut after spending the year dominating at AAA Syracuse. Duke pitched well, allowing only one run on three hits in four innings of relief. Ryan Mattheus and Drew Storen each threw a shutout inning to hold down the eighth and ninth respectively, but things came apart in the tenth for Tyler Clippard. Clippard (L, 2-4), in to pitch the top of the tied tenth, allowed three runs on three hits, including a two-run triple by Jose Reyes, while recording only two outs. Michael Gonzalez was able to finish out the inning, but the damage was done by then.
Despite the relatively poor job done by the pitching staff, the offense put up an admirable show. A first-inning Ryan Zimmerman home run tied the game at two, but the offense was quieted by rookie pitcher Jacob Turner until the seventh, when four consecutive hits scored three runs to pull the Nats within 6-5. The next inning, Michael Morse tied the game at six with a solo homer, which was his first since August 17th. Then, down three in the bottom of the tenth, the cardiac Nats almost pulled off another amazing comeback. After a Morse single scored Ian Desmond to cut the deficit to two, Adam LaRoche doubled and Kurt Suzuki walked to load the bases with one out. But Roger Bernadina and Jayson Werth struck out to end the game and strand the winning run on first. With Atlanta’s 3-0 win in New York tonight, the Nats’ division lead is cut to 6.5 games, and their magic number to win the NL East remains 18.
Champ of the Game: Morse, who was 2-5 with two RBI, including his game-tying homer.
Reyes was great for the Marlins, hitting two triples and going 3-6 with three RBI.
Chump of the Game: Clippard, who put the game out of reach in the tenth.
Carlos Zambrano did not record an out for the Marlins, but still allowed three runs.
Unsung Hero: Duke, who kept the game from getting out of hand and contained Miami’s offense.
Turner was quietly effective against the Nats’ scorching hot offense.
Next Game: Tomorrow in DC, 1:05 PM. Buehrle (12-12, 3.73) v. Detwiler (9-6, 3.15)