By Dave Sheinin
Friday, August 13, 2010; D5
Thursday night was a night for patience at Nationals Park, a night for a leisurely beer or three in the Red Loft as you waited out the rain, a night for syrupy Liv??n Hern??ndez curveballs that could have been timed by a wristwatch instead of a radar gun, a night when the Washington Nationals' long-awaited burst of offense was always just a swing away, if you could just wait for it.
But it was a night when patience went unrewarded. The Nationals waited out a rain delay of nearly two hours, survived a shaky start to Hern??ndez's latest cloudy gem, and kept putting runners on base with their mashers coming to the plate - only to lose again.
The Nationals' 5-0 loss to the Marlins completed a three-game sweep at the hands of their NL East rivals and pushed their losing streak to five games, during which the Nationals have been outscored by a margin of 33-12.
An announced crowd of 16,496 - lured to the park, despite the rain, by the promotional giveaway of a DVD of Stephen Strasburg's memorable June 8 big league debut - saw the Nationals produce a game that undoubtedly will never be saved to disc for posterity.
Hern??ndez, the only constant in a Nationals rotation that has seen a total of 12 pitchers pass through it this season, delivered the kind of game that has defined his remarkable season - rarely brilliant, occasionally maddening, but ultimately effective. And true to this season's script, he got nothing but another "L" for his effort.
Stymied early on by a tight strike zone, Hern??ndez (8-8) gave up a two-run homer to Marlins outfield sensation Mike Stanton in the second inning, and a third run when the Marlins strung together three singles in the third. But he righted himself after that, pitching into the seventh inning to save, at least for a night, the Nationals' overtaxed bullpen.
If there were any justice in baseball, Hern??ndez (8-8) would have at least a dozen wins (not to mention a 2011 contract). This season, he has twice absorbed losses in 2-0 games, and three times he received a no-decision in games in which he has pitched seven innings and given up only one earned run.
Thursday night's outing, in fact, was the 10th time this season Hern??ndez has delivered a quality start (six-plus innings, three or fewer earned runs) yet taken either a loss or a no-decision.
One night after going 5 for 5 and coming a triple shy of hitting for the cycle, Stanton - who was 7 years old when Hern??ndez charmed Miami as the MVP of the 1997 World Series - greeted Hern??ndez in the second inning with a two-run homer, which was declared as such only after a replay review, as the ball landed atop the scoreboard in right-center and bounced back onto the field. Stanton walked in the third inning - at which point he had reached base in seven consecutive plate appearances and 10 out of 11, dating to Tuesday night - before finally making an out in the sixth, when Hern??ndez got him to foul out.
In the year of the phenom, with Washington's Strasburg, Atlanta's Jason Heyward and San Francisco's Buster Posey drawing most of the attention, Stanton, a strapping lad at 6 feet 5, 235 pounds, might be the fourth face on that peach-fuzzed Mount Rushmore.
Hern??ndez lives on the black, on the outer edges of the plate, which means he is dependent upon the generosity of the home plate umpire, and when said umpire gets stingy, Hern??ndez gets burned.
On Thursday night, Hern??ndez got no help from umpire Mike Winters, although that seemed to bother catcher Iv??n Rodr??guez more than it did Hern??ndez. In the top of the third, when Rodr??guez started jawing with Winters over a borderline ball call, Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman stepped in - both to spare his catcher from a potential ejection and to voice his own displeasure
Meantime, the Nationals were continuing their pattern of non-support for Hern??ndez against Marlins starter Ricky Nolasco.
Their best chance came in the fifth, when Rodriguez reached on an infield single and went to second when Willie Harris walked. But Hern??ndez failed to get a bunt down and struck out, and Roger Bernadina flied out to right. After Nolasco hit Ian Desmond with a pitch to load the bases, Adam Dunn strode to the plate as the crowd mustered its biggest roar of the night.
But Nolasco struck out Dunn on a wicked slider - part of an 0 for 10 night for the Nationals with runners in scoring position - and Dunn spun and headed back to the his dugout, head down. It was a leisurely stroll.