By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
MIAMI, Sept. 12 -- After 4 hours 9 minutes of laboring in the tropical midday heat in a cavernous and virtually empty stadium Wednesday afternoon, the Washington Nationals got stuck with this: a 5-4 loss to the Florida Marlins in 12 innings that was sealed when a .226 reserve player chopped a single through the infield to drive home the winning run.
Florida left fielder Todd Linden, waived earlier this year by the San Francisco Giants, got his bat on a sinker from reliever Saul Rivera and punched it just to the right of second base as shortstop D'Angelo Jimenez and second baseman Ronnie Belliard tried, but failed, to get gloves on the ball.
Reggie Abercrombie, elected to pinch-run for Mike Jacobs after his leadoff double, scored from third to end a marathon that had been deadlocked since the sixth inning. The several dozen fans who speckled the plastic orange seating provided an odd backdrop, offering the same chorus of celebratory shouts and claps that would accompany a Little League game.
"To throw a good pitch like [Rivera] did, a sinker down and away, and for a guy to roll over it and find a hole after 4 1/2 hours," catcher Brian Schneider said, "is very disappointing."
The loss, Washington's second straight to the Marlins, left the visitor's clubhouse at Dolphin Stadium nearly as silent as the stadium had been much of the afternoon. There were perhaps 400 people in attendance. Players seemed both exasperated and exhausted by the fruitless performance that barely anyone was there to see.
"It looked, actually, like an extended spring game," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said about the crowd at the stadium, which seats 75,000 fans for football games. "It was so sad, but we still got to play the game. [Linden] just hit the ball perfectly -- the only place he could hit it in the infield and beat it out."
Though the Nationals secured the season series against the Marlins (10-8) with their one victory in three games here this week, they left still fighting to stay out of the basement of the National League East. They are just two games ahead of Florida in that race.
"They know, and we know, we're playing for something," Acta said. "We don't want to finish last and they don't want to finish last. It's no secret."
What began ignominiously with poor outings by both starting pitchers -- Washington's Joel Hanrahan and Florida's Byung Hyun Kim were charged with all but two of the game's runs -- evolved into a classic pitching duel between bullpens that, judging by the number of batting helmets and bats spiked to the turf, left hitters from both sides demoralized as the innings stretched on.
By game's end, 16 pitchers combined to strike out 33 batters. Twelve half-innings concluded with strikeouts.
Infuriated by his inning-ending strikeout in the second with the bases loaded, the Marlins' Jeremy Hermida tossed his bat so hard it busted into several pieces. Power hitter Miguel Cabrera flipped his bat into the air dramatically after striking out with one on in the eighth. Washington's Ryan Zimmerman put on a similar display after whiffing with two on in the sixth, and Ryan Langerhans tossed his equipment after fanning to end the 10th.
With a man in scoring position in the bottom of that inning, Dan Uggla struck out swinging, too.
"It was a long day," said Ryan Church, who hit a fifth-inning home run before being replaced in center field by Nook Logan. And "it was an odd day. . . . It was so frigging hot. It was miserable out there."
Temperatures reached the low 90s with high humidity. Though five Washington relievers combined to allow no runs and only two base runners from the seventh inning through the 11th, the Nationals never recovered from Hanrahan's early collapse. After escaping two bases-loaded jams early, he faltered. In the third inning, he allowed a leadoff single to Cabrera, then surrendered two-run home run with two outs to catcher Miguel Olivo.
In just 3 1/3 innings, Hanrahan gave up three runs, walked six and allowed six hits. Even worse, he threw 104 pitches, nearly a full game's worth.
"It was a very disappointing effort," he said. "I'm still working on things."
Kim, meantime, might have put forth one of the least effective 10-strikeout performances in baseball history. When he wasn't dominating the Nationals, he was putting them on base. He gave up seven hits and walked four in 5 2/3 innings, including back-to-back home runs in the fifth to Church and Wily Mo Pe?a.
That gave Washington a 4-3 lead that lasted until the bottom of the sixth, when Hermida homered off Jonathan Albaladejo to produce the tie that would stretch into extra innings.
"The end was disappointing," Schneider said. "To have that happen, it's hard."