MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. —The two most painful moments of Tuesday night happened before the Washington Nationals walked off the field in the 10th inning, watching the Florida Marlins celebrate and swallowing a defeat that would later have them kicking doors and slamming lockers in their clubhouse.
One happened when their last, best chance to score a run died on the vine, when Ryan Zimmerman dipped his chin to his chest, walked away from home plate and dropped his bat on the grass before he had a chance to use it. The other happened when the biggest free agent acquisition in team history dropped a pop-up.
The Nationals have found some brutal ways to lose to these Marlins in recent seasons, and their 3-2, 10-inning loss before an announced crowd of 10,482 at Sun Life Stadium measured up to any of them. First, a base-coaching gaffe in the eighth inning ended the rally that could have scored the go-ahead run. Next, Jayson Werth dropped a shallow fly ball in the 10th. Last, Sean Burnett yielded a two-out, bases-loaded, game-ending single to Donnie Murphy. The Nationals lost 39 of 53 games to the Marlins the previous three seasons, and their first meeting cast an ominous tone on the 2011 season series.
“We’re not doing the little things right now to get us a win,” Werth said. “And that needs to change. . . . The group of guys we have is very conducive to winning. I think we have the guys we need to mesh good together and play good together. It’s just a matter of going out there and getting it done.”
Omar Infante began the 10th by popping up a Drew Storen fastball to shallow right. Second baseman Danny Espinosa backpedaled and settled under the ball. After watching a replay later, Werth said he realized “it was his ball.” But charging in from right, he wasn’t sure, so he called Espinosa off. Werth tried to make a basket catch, but the ball fell from his grasp and plopped to the turf.
“Obviously, it was a play that needs to be made there in that spot,” Werth said. “It was unfortunate. Totally my fault. . . . I had a chance to catch it. I just didn’t. It cost us the game. I take total responsibility for that one.”
A wild pitch sent Infante to second, which allowed the Nationals to intentionally walk Hanley Ramirez. Gaby Sanchez then rolled a groundball single through the left side of the infield. With the bases loaded, Nationals Manager Jim Riggleman summoned Sean Burnett from the bullpen and pulled Jerry Hairston from left field to play as a fifth infielder.
“I was just trying to pull a Houdini,” Burnett said, and he nearly did. Logan Morrison popped to shallow right, where this time Werth squeezed the ball. Burnett struck out John Buck, inching closer to an impossible escape.
“I was trying to get a groundball,” Burnett said, “and get the hell out of there.”
But the second pitch he threw Murphy was a sinker, meant to be low and away, that stayed in the middle of the plate — “the worst pitch I threw all inning,” Burnett said. Murphy laced it to left-center.
The game may not have reached extra innings if not for an earlier blunder. With Clay Hensley pitching in relief for the Marlins in the eighth and the game tied, Hairston drew a two-out walk, the first time in 18 tries a Nationals leadoff hitter had reached base this season, continuing the inning for Werth — and bringing Zimmerman to the on-deck circle.
Zimmerman had already blasted a solo home run — his first in 88 at-bats dating back to last season — and walked three times. For the season, he’d reached base in 10 of 16 plate appearances. Scoring the go-ahead run, of course, would be the best-case scenario for the Nationals. Giving Zimmerman a chance to make it happen would be next-best.
Werth scorched a line drive to the left field corner. In the third base coach’s box, Bo Porter watched the drive and said to himself, “Get out of here, ball!”
“Ten feet to the left,” Werth said, “it’s a homer.”
Hairston bolted from first, his eyes on Porter as he sprinted. The ball smacked against the fence as Porter windmilled his right arm. Hairston obliged, cheeks puffed, as Morrison’s relay throw sailed toward the infield, closing in on Hairston.
As Hairston steamed around third, Porter realized the throw would beat the runner home. He threw up his palms, instructing Hairston to stop. Hairston braked, but by the time he realized Porter had changed his mind, it was too late. Donnie Murphy cut off Morrison’s throw and flipped to Emilio Bonifacio, who trapped Hairston in a rundown for the final out.
“It was a bad read on my part,” Porter said. “I picked it up late, and I should have stopped him. It’s a bad feeling. You’re over there long enough, you’ll make that mistake.”
The Nationals could have made it much easier on themselves. They went 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12. The missed chances spoiled another strong performance by the Nationals’ starting rotation, which has allowed four walks and seven earned runs in 231 / 3 innings after Marquis surrendered one run in 61 / 3 innings.
“We’re not going to sit and dwell on this,” Espinosa said. “We’ll come back, and we’ll play hard tomorrow.”