It was muggy, muddy, and for the second night in a row, much closer of a game than it probably could have been. But once again, despite the circumstances, the Washington Nationals (67-65) came away with a win over the Miami Marlins (49-82).
Manager Davey Johnson described the 4-3 victory as, “a nice ballgame, since we won it,” but acknowledged that the team still made mistakes that contributed to the close score. Base runners made blunders. The bullpen had some ugly innings. The offense wasn’t particularly explosive, getting 10 hits but going 1-for-12 with runners in scoring position.
Nevertheless, Washington walked away with a rain-soaked win, which put them two games above .500 for the first time since July 11.
Their victory was sandwiched around a 112-minute rain delay, which knocked Stephen Strasburg from the game after just two spotless innings.
Strasburg had thrown only 22 pitches, and had not allowed a hit, facing one batter over the minimum. But about 45 minutes into the delay, Strasburg complained of back stiffness, so he did not retake the mound for the third inning.
Because of his abbreviated outing, Johnson said he would entertain the idea of allowing Strasburg to pitch on short rest, possibly starting Sunday’s game against the New York Mets, but said that decision would be made in the next few days.
Five pitchers from the bullpen combined for seven decent innings in relief of Strasburg, though only Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano were able to face the minimum in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
Shutting down the side on 12 pitches with two strikeouts was nothing new for Clippard, who has allowed only 28 hits across 60 and one-third dominant innings of relief this season. But for Soriano, Wednesday marked the first time in eight appearances that he was able to pitch a 1-2-3 inning.
Drew Storen earned his fourth win of the season after escaping some trouble in the seventh. He gave up a single and a walk to start the inning, and got behind in the count to Giancarlo Stanton, who had hit a laser of a home run off Ryan Mattheus in the previous inning.
But Storen was able to sit down Stanton and the next two Marlins hitters after some choice words from pitching coach Steve McCatty.
“I sent McCatty out there to tell him the magic words,” Johnson said. “He came from 2-and-0 to Stanton, struck him out, and it was easy going from there.”
When asked what the magic words were, Johnson said, “We don’t ever disclose those.”
Whatever the words were, they worked, though not as effectively on Craig Stammen and Mattheus, who were responsible for giving up all three of the Marlins’ runs.
Stammen surrendered a solo shot to Jeff Mathis in the fifth inning, and in his first appearance since returning from Triple-A Syracuse, Mattheus was greeted by Stanton’s crushing blast. Mathis won his face-off with Mattheus by slapping an RBI-single to left field to give the Marlins the lead in the sixth inning.
Thanks to the Nats’ offense, led by Ian Desmond, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored, the deficit was quickly made up.
The Nationals scored their first run of the game in the second inning, right as the skies dumped water on Nationals Park. Desmond led off the inning with a single, and Steve Lombardozzi brought him home with a damp double.
Bryce Harper extended his hitting streak to 10 games in the third inning with a double that allowed Ryan Zimmerman to score from first. In the sixth, Jayson Werth blasted a home run to nearly the exact same spot beyond center field where Stanton’s landed.
Desmond was again the star of an important inning in the seventh, when he scoffed at Marlins pitcher Mike Dunn’s intentionally walking Werth to get to him by shooting an RBI-single into left field.
Four runs were enough to win it, which was crucial for the Nationals. Wild Card race aside – they sit “only” seven games back of the Cincinnati Reds for the second National League spot – beating teams like the Marlins this late in the year is exactly what they need to be doing in order to finish this season strong.