The Nationals clung to the chance at the team’s first winning record since baseball returned to Washington until the ninth inning Tuesday night, when the Florida Marlins suddenly sealed a 3-2, walk-off victory. With two outs and the score tied in the ninth, Bryan Petersen launched a home run to deep right field. Left-handed reliever Doug Slaten hung his head immediately and only peeked at the ball before it soared over the fence.
Rather than entering the final day of their season playing for their 81st victory, the Nationals dropped to 79-81 and sealed their sixth straight losing record. Since the Nationals had a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers wiped off their schedule by rain this month, they will play 161 games and will not have a chance to equal the 2005 Nationals’ 81-81 record.
The Nationals have still won 13 of their past 17 games, and they have already improved upon their 2010 win total by 10 games. But they will not finish better than .500, and to at least some of them, that means a lot.
“I’m really very proud of them,” Manager Davey Johnson said. “That was a weird event that ended this ballgame. I was comfortable with where we’re at, getting a lot of guys in the game and they were doing well. But no, it’s been a great season. I’m really proud of these guys.”
John Lannan concluded his season by allowing two runs in six innings on three hits and three walks. He finished his year with a career-best 3.70 ERA, but he left Sun Life Stadium thinking more about the pitch that may have cost him his 11th win.
In the top of the sixth, the Nationals took a 2-1 lead when Ian Desmond’s single drove home Steve Lombardozzi, who had reached on a double. In the bottom of the inning, Emilio Bonifacio ripped a leadoff double down the third base line. After Lannan retired the next two hitters, Bonifacio stole third base.
Primed to strand Bonifacio and preserve the lead, Lannan momentarily lost his command. He got two strikes on Gaby Sanchez, then hit him in the foot with a curveball. He then threw three consecutive balls to Logan Morrison, a left-handed hitter.
Lannan came back with a strike, then fired an 88-mph fastball that catcher Wilson Ramos had positioned himself to catch low in the strike zone. Lannan sailed it over Ramos’s head, still within his reach. The ball skidded off Ramos’s glove and trickled behind him.
“There was a couple pitches there where I think flew open or something happened,” Lannan said. “I don’t know, but I was missing huge. It’s not easy back there when I’m missing my spot by five feet.”