There's a trite expression that says (insert sport here) is a game of inches. Twice last night in extra innings we saw evidence that the axiom still applies to Major League Baseball.
Pinch-hitter Michael Morse missed a home run to the deepest part of the ballpark by mere inches in the bottom of the tenth with two outs and was forced to settle for a double. He was stranded there when Jerry Hairston flied out to right to end the inning. Omar Infante, who was dead-to-rights on a play at the plate, lifted his lead hand to avoid Wilson Ramos' tag and got the tips of the fingers of his back hand on the plate after the catcher lunged for the player instead of protecting the plate.
That's essentially how the Florida Marlins defeated the Washington Nationals, 6-5, before 19,503 mostly-stunned fans Friday night at Nationals Park.
The loss drops the Nats two games below .500 at 18-20.
The loss spoiled Roger Bernadina's big night, as "The Shark" went 3-for-5 with a two-run double, walk, stolen base, and perhaps the catch of the year in center field, robbing Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton of extra bases with an acrobatic diving catch running full-speed away from home plate. Bernadina looked like he got the wind knocked out of him when he landed hard, but regained his composure to jog off the field to a standing ovation from the crowd -- and his teammates.
"Bernie's shown us great flashes at times and he's getting an opportunity to play," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We need a leadoff hitter and he's playing very well."
Brian Broderick (0-1, 6.57) took the loss, giving up two hits in the 11th inning. Infante singled up the middle past a stretched out Ian Desmond, then Greg Dobbs hit a hard ground ball down the right field line to sent Infante racing home from first. Hairston took the relay throw from Jayson Werth and fired a strike to home plate well in advance of Infante, but the veteran's tricky slide eluded the rookie Ramos' lunging tag to score the game-winner.
"[Infante] was safe. He made a great slide," Riggleman said. "He put his hand out there and pulled his hand back and put the other one out there. Ramos made a great effort, diving at him, to put the tag on him but he's diving to where he thinks his hand is going to be and Infante just made a great slide."
The Nats went quietly in the bottom of the inning against Marlins closer Leo Nunez, who earned his Major League leading 13th save.
Neither starting pitcher was particularly sharp, nor factored in the decision. Tom Gorzelanny gave up three runs in the first inning, on a two-run homer by Gaby Sanchez and a solo shot from John Buck, and another solo homer to Mike Stanton in the third. All told, he went 4 2/3 innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and an intentional walk, striking out six. The Nats got to Marlins starter Chris Volstad for four earned on eight hits and one walk, and struck out seven times against a pitcher who entered play with a 5.73 ERA.
Ian Desmond drove in the Nats first run with a single, Laynce Nix hit a bomb into the upper tank in right center in the fourth, and Bernadina's two-run double came later that inning. Nix plated the Nats final run in the eighth with a double off reliever Mike Dunn.
The Nats had a chance in the bottom of the ninth, as a two-out walk by Bernadina and single by Desmond put runners on the corners with Jayson Werth due. But Desmond took second on defensive indifference, allowing the Marlins to intentionally walk Werth. They then brought a lefty to face Adam LaRoche, who is hitting .127 against lefties in 2011. LaRoche promptly grounded out to second to end the threat.
The Nationals fought back tonight after being in a hole early, but just couldn't pull it out against the Marlins last night. If the Nats are going to have a chance to achieve their lofty goal of remaining around .500 long enough to be in the conversation as the weather warms up, they need to find a way to win these games of inches. This was one prime for the taking and they fell just short.
THE GOOD: Roger Bernadina. He had it all on display last night. 3-for-5, two RBI, stolen base and an early nominee for defensive play of the year. Laynce Nix was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and his fifth home run of the year. Jerry Hairston went 2-for-5 and made the great relay throw to the plate. Drew Storen was overpowering in his two innings, retiring all six batters faced, striking out six.
THE BAD: Tom Gorzelanny. He got roughed up pretty good. Four earned on eight hits was easily his worst performance so far this season.
THE UGLY: Danny Espinosa. 0-for-3 with two more strikeouts. He's not shortening his swing at all with two strikes and he really looks lost right now. His average has dipped all the way down to .205.
THE STATS: 12 hits, five walks, 11 Ks. 4-for-12 with RISP, nine LOB, three GIDP. No errors.
NEXT GAME: Saturday at 1:05 pm against the Marlins at Nats Park. Livan Hernandez (3-4, 4.29) faces Anibal Sanchez (2-1, 3.46). See link for more about Saturday's events at the park.
NATS NOTES: Riggleman indicated after the game that Desmond was playing with a sore quadriceps and will be given the game off tomorrow.