Just hours after they clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Washington Nationals (94-66) took their first breath of the 2014 season. For the first time in 159 games, nothing was at stake. But as they exhaled, they collapsed and suffered a 15-7 beating at the hands of the Miami Marlins (77-83).
Friday night’s contest was the antithesis of the clean, 4-0 win and complete game shutout orchestrated by Doug Fister in the first game of the day-night double header. Game 160 saw a less than five-inning outing from Nats’ starter Taylor Hill, two errors and a complete bullpen meltdown in late innings.
Hill made his third appearance and first start of the season for the Nationals, who were short-staffed through their baseball marathon of two double headers in two days. Hill gave up one run in each of the first two innings, but settled in for the third and fourth. He got the first two batters of the fifth inning to strike out and ground out, but then faced five batters and gave up four runs without converting the final out. He was replaced by Ross Detwiler, who gave up the seventh earned run charged to Hill.
The relief performances that followed spanned the spectrum. Aaron Barrett, Rafael Soriano and Ryan Mattheus each pitched a scoreless inning, with Barrett giving up the only hit. But Xavier Cedeno and Craig Stammen both officially pitched zero innings – Cedeno faced three batters and Stammen faced six without recording an out – and gave up eight runs between the two of them.
A rough outing from Cedeno, who spent most of his season at Triple-A, was less surprising than Stammen’s ninth-inning fracas. Stammen hadn’t allowed an earned run since Aug. 24, and his ERA was 3.22. But after giving up four consecutive singles and a grand slam to Enrique Hernandez, his ERA ballooned to 3.84.
Possibly the most impressive outing of the night was Mattheus’, who entered to clean up Stammen’s mess and got all three outs on just four pitches.
The damage was done, though. Despite what would have been a successful offensive night in most other games, the Nationals saw the Marlins outdo their run and hit totals by almost double. The Nats had seven runs on 12 hits, compared with the Marlins’ 15 runs on 22 hits.
Jayson Werth led the offense with a 3-for-4 night. He had one RBI and two runs, and was just a home run away from hitting for the cycle. Steven Souza Jr. and Tyler Moore both homered, and Michael Taylor and Kevin Frandsen both went 2-for-5 with one run scored each.
The crowd had as much to cheer for as to bemoan in the lopsided loss, but with two games remaining in the regular season, the Nationals are going to want to use those games to go out on a good note and let the fans cheer them into the postseason.