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After lengthy delay, Nationals beat Marlins, 9-3

By Adam Kilgore
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 2:22 AM

MIAMI GARDENS, FLA. - The water was everywhere. As Jason Marquis threw his final warmup pitches in the Washington Nationals' bullpen Monday night, puddles covered the distance between the mound and home plate. As the Florida Marlins took the field, nine grounds crew members with squeegees stood in the outfield. Logan Morrison splashed and hydroplaned, Slip-'N-Slide style, into the left field wall in pursuit of the game's first out. It was a night for amphibious outfielders and extra pairs of dry socks.

For most of the 2 hours 49 minutes the Nationals waited to start their 9-3 victory over the Marlins, the torrential rain seemingly assured the game would be postponed. The Nationals made the delay worthwhile. Marquis earned his first win as a National, preventing him from losing eight straight and setting a new Nationals record. Behind Ryan Zimmerman's three-run, scoreboard-altering home run and Adam Dunn's four RBI, the Nationals matched their season-high, three-game winning streak on a most unusual night.

About 300 fans filled the expanse of empty seats at Sun Life Stadium at first pitch, which came at 9:59 p.m. Zimmermann scalded a single up the middle in the second inning, and it rolled through the wet grass and came to a stop before it reached center fielder Cameron Maybin. ("I mean, that's ridiculous," Dunn said.) Michael Morse trotted out to right field, leaping from patch to patch of dry land, and then jumped with two feet into a large puddle.

"I was thinking about how much water was going to be in my shoes," Morse said. "I've never seen a field like that."

The rare conditions came with a rare achievement for the Nationals. They won three straight for the sixth time this season, and Marquis won his first game since Sept. 8 of last season. He lasted 52/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and three walks.

"It's nice," Marquis said. "Get the monkey off the back a little bit."

Before the game, Marquis assumed the game would be postponed and he played cards to pass the time. He tried to be ready just in case, and it turned out he would pitch.

Marquis entered intent on validating his previous two starts and further separating himself from his early-season disasters. Before Monday night, Marquis had allowed two earned runs in 121/3 innings, including his best start of the season, when he shut out the Chicago Cubs for seven innings before yielding one run.

Marquis couldn't match his best start of the season, but he pitched long enough and just effectively enough to enter the win column. He allowed his three runs on two homers, a solo shot by Hanley Ramirez in the first and a two-run rocket by Brett Hayes in the sixth that ended his night. He was not at his best - "It was a grind," he said - but Marquis still fought his way to a win, which to him was the best sign of all.

"I feel like I've thrown the ball the way I should," Marquis said. "It helps a lot more mentally when you know there's nothing physically wrong with you. You may have to battle, but you're not battling pain. You're just focusing on making pitches.

Marquis could thank another home run for his victory. In the third, Zimmerman came to the plate with Alberto Gonzalez and Roger Bernadina on base, having already singled and scored a run on Dunn's double in the second. Zimmerman smashed a change-up off the scoreboard on the facing of the third deck, high above the wall in left, a blast that broke off a chunk of lights. The scoreboard read "Sun Life Stadiu" for the rest of the night.

"That's probably about as good as I've seen him hit a ball," Manager Jim Riggleman said.

The Nationals had given Marquis a comfortable, 4-1 lead, but Hayes's homer tightened the game up. Riggleman inserted Joel Peralta, who struck out pinch-hitter Donnie Murphy to end the sixth.

In the seventh, the Nationals turned a taut game into a blowout. Justin Maxwell led off by reaching on an error by third baseman Chad Tracy, and he took second and third on the same wild pitch. When Brian Sanches uncorked another wild pitch, Maxwell scored - the Marlins had given him all four bases.

Sanches's control never improved. He walked both Bernadina and Zimmerman with two outs, and Dunn blasted his 33rd home run of the season, just to the left of straightaway center. The blast put moved Dunn into second place in the National League, one ahead of Joey Votto and two behind Albert Pujols.

When Dunn crossed home plate, Zimmerman shook his hand and the duo shared a laugh. Together, they had 58 home runs, which tied them with Pujols and Matt Holliday for the major league lead for a pair of teammates. Zimmerman and Dunn may have only 30 games left together, Dunn a likely free agent this offseason, and the close friends are going to have fun in what could be their final month as teammates.

The clock had crept past midnight by the time Dunn slugged his home run more than 400 feet. Most of the puddles had dried and most of the fans left. About 100 remained by the end, after 1 a.m., their conversations easy to hear on the field. The Nationals could enjoy the odd circumstances, the win sweet no matter how much rain or how many empty orange seats accompanied it.

"It's fun to win, man," Dunn said. "It really is. You can be as loose as you can, but you're still miserable if you don't win. When you win, it takes care of so much. Winning's fun. I don't know how else to put it."

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