The Nationals had taken the lead with a suicide squeeze, executed by a batter who prayed he had read the sign correctly, and against a pitcher, Anibal Sanchez, they cannot beat. They lost it after one debatable decision and one wayward pickoff throw, one of Edwin Jackson’s lone missteps over 62
3 strong innings. Harper missed an inside-the-park home run after a faulty read. But their most crucial moment came in the eighth, when the Nationals loaded the bases, sent their best hitters to the plate and walked away with nothing.
“We had them in a spot where we should at least score a run,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “We had the right guys up. It just didn’t happen. Frustrating.”
A taut, well-pitched game entered the eighth with the Marlins leading, 2-1. Xavier Nady sparked a rally with a pinch-hit, leadoff single. Johnson and Marlins Manager Ozzie Guillen exchanged personnel. Cishek, a right-hander who throws 93 mph from his belt, walked Danny Espinosa and Steve Lombardozzi to load the bases with one out.
Up walked Harper. One run would tie the score, and all he needed to do was send the ball to the outfield. He didn’t care that Cishek had thrown eight balls in nine pitches. When Cishek started him with a fastball down the middle, he hacked. Foul. Cishek threw another sinker on the inside half, another foul.
“They were pitches I could handle,” Harper said.
Cishek had him down 0-2, and he flung another fastball, over the plate and about six feet off the ground. Harper flailed and missed. He walked back to the dugout. Afterward, when asked about being overanxious, Harper nearly cut off the question.
“Absolutely not,” he said calmly. “I was trying to get something to the outfield to score that runner. When I look back on that at-bat, I felt great. There’s nothing I can do about. I don’t feel over-anxious at all. I’m going up there to hit something.”
Said shortstop Ian Desmond: “You’re talking about a guy that’s throwing sidearm, 92 miles an hour. That’s not your average pitcher. I’m not mad that he swung at it. I’d rather him swing than take one right down the middle.”
Zimmerman’s groundout ended the rally for good. The Nationals fell behind by two runs in the bottom of the inning when Hanley Ramirez crushed a homer off Craig Stammen. In his first major league at-bat in the ninth, Jhonatan Solano gave the Nationals hope with a two-out double.