For the better part of three hours and fifteen minutes Wednesday night, the Washington Nationals slogged their way to a big deficit to the visiting Florida Marlins. The veteran starter did not go deep into the game, two usually dependable relievers gave up late runs that at the time looked like padding, and the offense looked as it has all season: befuddled.
But something funny happened on the way to that eventual loss. The Nats finally showed some life, scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth against a little-used reliever that most media in attendance had to look up in their stat service of choice when he entered the game. Unfortunately, the rally fell short, as Laynce Nix - representing the tying run -- flied out to right fielder Mike Stanton with his back against the outfield wall to end the game.
"I thought it was out," manager Davey Johnson said after the game. So did many of what remained of the 21,974 that came out to see if the Nats could beat a team that traditionally has owned them in the W-L column. They could not, and the Nats fell for the fourth straight game and sixth time in their last seven games. Johnson's record since taking over is a regrettable 9-16.
Ultimately, the 7-5 defeat to the Marlins was just another loss. We won't know if the momentum the team built in the ninth inning rally will even carry over to the next game. But at least, after almost 3 1/2 hours of pretty lousy baseball, they showed up.
There were many ways this game was lost. Nats starter Livan Hernandez was ineffective, as he needed 80 pitches to get through four innings. And when he allowed the first two batters to reach in the fifth, Johnson yanked him.
"Livo used a lot of pitches in four innings. I've never seen him around 80 pitches in four innings. He was close to 90, and I took him out. He is usually in the seventh inning by that time," Johnson commented. Ross Detwiler was called upon and he allowed one of the inherited runners to come around, but figuring he entered with no outs and runners on the corners, he managed to get out of the inning fairly well.
All told, Hernandez gave up four earned runs on five hits and three walks, striking out five. This marks the second time in three games that he has pitched just four innings. Detwiler put a lot of runners on in his two innings of work, but kept the Marlins off the board, which is more than Todd Coffey and Drew Storen could say.
Coffey gave up a solo home run to Mike Cameron (hitting .167 entering play) as Johnson tried to get a second inning out of the hefty reliever, and Storen gave up Cameron's second homer of the game, a blast in the top of the ninth that at the time seemed gratuitous, putting Florida up 7-1. Little did anyone know that it was actually the game-winning hit.
As for the other side of things, the offense again was non-existent up until two outs in the ninth. At that point, a Jerry Hairston single, Ryan Zimmerman ground rule double and Michael Morse ground ball single the opposite way plated four runs off reliever Steve Cishek. But Marlins closer Leo Nunez got Laynce Nix to fall mere feet short of tying the game with what would have been his second home run of the night. Instead, the ball fell harmlessly into right fielder Mike Stanton's glove to kill the rally.
The loss drops the Nats to 49-54, five games below .500, and honestly, the team looks more like the second half squads of the last few seasons than the plucky team that as late as two weeks ago looked like they would challenge the .500 mark this season. With another game against Florida, then series against the Mets and Braves in this homestand, if the Nats don't turn things around in a hurry they once again won't be playing any meaningful games in September.
THE GOOD: Ryan Zimmerman went 3-for-5 with an RBI ground rule double in the ninth inning.
THE BAD: Jesus Flores went 0-for-4, weakly grounding out twice and striking out.
THE UGLY: The normally reliable Drew Storen. His name is being floated in trade rumors by national writers and he went out last night and laid a stinker. He recorded the first two outs of the inning easily, but a line drive single to Stanton and Cameron's second shot of the night ended up hurting his team.
THE STATS: 10 hits, four walks, seven strikeouts. 3-for-10 with RISP, nine LOB, one GIDP. E: Hairston (8).
NEXT GAME: Thursday at 12:35 pm against the Marlins. John Lannan (7-6, 3.51) hosts Brad Hand (1-3, 2.77).
NATS NOTES: One night after having a perfect game tossed against them, the Nats Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse tried to turn the tables. Chiefs starter Brad Peacock took a no-hitter against Columbus into the eighth, but lost his bid to the first batter of the inning, ending the no-hitter and ending his evening. The Chiefs held on to win 2-0.
Double-A Harrisburg OF Bryce Harper hit his first home run for the Senators, a solo shot that contributed to a 6-3 win over Bowie.