Nationals Blow Lead, Lose in Rainy Miami

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MIAMI, June 30 -- Fitting that the skies opened and rain thundered down with virtually no warning in the bottom of the seventh inning, sending everyone running for cover. The Washington Nationals surely felt like hiding at that point, anyway. They had just blown a four-run lead with a landslide of poor pitching and poor fielding, all but handing the Florida Marlins a come-from-behind victory with a deluge of awfulness difficult to dissect.

Who or what, exactly, deserved most of the blame for Tuesday's rain-shortened 7-5 defeat at Land Shark Stadium, the Nationals' eighth straight loss this season to the Marlins?

Was it Washington's four errors, including three by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, which led to four unearned runs? Or was it the sixth-inning collapse by rookie starter Craig Stammen, which allowed the Marlins to climb out of a 5-1 hole? Or the bottoming-out by the bullpen, which produced an entertaining assortment of ill-timed walks, wild pitches and hittable ones that allowed the Marlins to steal the victory just before the game got washed out?

"You gotta be ahead when the rain comes down," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said. "We had the lead and we blew it in the seventh. We have nothing to blame but ourselves."

The game was called after 6 2/3 innings and a 1-hour, 29-minute delay. For the first five innings, Stammen had looked cool, focused, in his element and on his game. To that point, he had held the Marlins to one unearned run. He hadn't walked a soul. He even provided a bit of offense, driving in a pair of fourth-inning runs by knuckling a pitch into right field with the bases loaded.

But things turned around fast in the three-run Marlins sixth that preceded a three-run seventh.

"I'm very disappointed in how I finished," Stammen said. "We had the game in our hands. I kind of let them get back in it."

Stammen had worn his performance with pride, making certain not to dust off the pants he dirtied while gamely attempting to break up a double play after collecting his first major league RBI, which had given the Nationals a 3-1 lead. The Nationals' lineup, meantime, chased Marlins starter Sean West early, helped by a two-run home run and run-scoring double by Adam Dunn.

But trouble floated in like the dark clouds in the sixth. Marlins pinch hitter Alejandro De Aza got things started for Florida, whacking Stammen's first pitch into left field for a single. On his third pitch, Chris Coghlin punched a single to left. Then came a sacrifice fly from Emilio Bonifacio. Then a wild pitch that allowed De Aza to score.

That brought Hanley RamĂ­rez to the plate, and the Marlins' slugger ripped a low pitch over the right field wall to the delight of the announced crowd of 11,821. The home run made the score 5-4 and sent Stammen to the dugout, his head hanging, a tidy outing down the drain.

An inning later, Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard set the tone with a leadoff walk, Joe Beimel got the call next, and the leaky faucet turned into a full-blown flood. There were two errors, a walk, a pair of singles. Ramirez drove in the winning runs.

"You don't need to be an expert in math to know that walks plus errors equals runs," Acta said. "That's basically what happened tonight. . . . We have to clean it up."

The rain prevented the Marlins from doing further damage; Brett Carroll did not get to finish his at-bat as the rain came down in sheets, leaving Jorge CantĂș stranded.

Things had looked so good for Washington earlier. The only significant prior blemish -- well, two blemishes -- came on a remarkably poorly executed play by Zimmerman, who at first bobbled a first-inning ground ball, then misfired it, earning two errors on one play.

Dunn hit his 298th career home run in the fifth, a two-run shot that drove in Zimmerman and gave the Nationals their brief four-run lead. West, who also allowed a run-scoring double to Dunn in the first inning, had struggled mightily, allowing eight hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

But in the seventh inning, after Stammen had been chased, the Nationals' bats suddenly went silent. Nick Johnson, Zimmerman and Dunn produced consecutive strikeouts, setting the stage for the Marlins' last-ditch rally before the rain.

"We had the game," right fielder Josh Willingham said, "kind of where we wanted it."

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