MIAMI — As Washington Nationals Manager Matt Williams walked toward the mound on Monday night, closer Rafael Soriano huddled with his teammates. Williams came to pull Soriano from the game, leaving the wreckage behind. When Soriano entered to start the ninth inning, the Nationals had a three-run lead. When he stepped back into the dugout, the score was tied and five of the six batters he faced had reached base, the only out a sacrifice fly.
The Marlins beat the Nationals, 7-6, on Jeff Baker’s walk-off hit off Jerry Blevins with two outs in the ninth. Blevins took over for Soriano with runners on first and third and only one out, an unenviable position. He struck out Christian Yelich but then gave up the game-winning hit, a single that sailed over left fielder Bryce Harper’s head and smacked the base of the wall.
“I no make excuse,” Soriano said. “Every pitch I threw I not throw how I supposed to. A bad day for me and my team. I feel sorry for [starter] Jordan [Zimmermann] because I think he pitched a great game and [was] supposed to win that game.”
Soriano’s ninth-inning meltdown — his worst outing in stellar season — squandered Zimmermann’s seven strong innings. The Nationals took a 6-0 lead into the seventh, but the Marlins scored two runs off Zimmermann in his final inning and tacked on another against Ross Detwiler in the eighth before Soriano’s mess in the four-run ninth.
The game was set up for one of the best bullpens in baseball to complete, but the relievers suffered a rare implosion. Soriano blew his fourth save in 29 tries.
“No one is perfect,” Zimmermann said. “These guys are going to have bad games. They’ve been picking me up all year. You’re going to have a bad game from time to time. [Monday] was just one of them.”
“Set the game up perfectly for us with Sori in the ninth,” Williams said.
But a night after notching his 200th career save, Soriano struggled to find the strike zone. He walked the first batter he faced, then gave up a double, an RBI single and a sacrifice fly. He then gave up the game-tying triple to Miami’s No. 8 hitter, Adeiny Hechavarria, who fouled off five pitches before drilling a ball to center field in cavernous Marlins Park.
Pitching coach Steve McCatty paid a visit to the mound, but Soriano hit pinch hitter Donovan Solano. Williams then took Soriano out of the game. Soriano was pitching for the third time in four days but afterward said he felt fine.
“I have to make a better pitch,” Soriano said. “My two-seamer not work. My cutter not work. My slider not work. To me, it not happen a lot of time. It happened [Monday]. I have to try and come back tomorrow and fix it.”
Blevins, who has struggled against right-handed batters this season despite past success, came in but couldn’t strand the winning run at third base. After striking out Yelich, Blevins faced Baker. With Tyler Clippard unavailable after pitching twice in the previous three days, and three relievers already used up, Williams only had Aaron Barrett and Craig Stammen left, and someone was needed if the game went to extra innings.
Blevins wanted to throw a first-pitch change-up to Baker, but he didn’t locate it low enough and Baker crushed the pitch to left. Teammates mobbed him in the infield. “No margin for error there,” Blevins said.
Adding injury to insult, Jayson Werth exited the game in the seventh inning with a sprained right ankle. After trying to stretch a single to right into a double, Werth contorted his body around a tag at second base. He was slow to get up and went into the dugout tunnel with a trainer. Nate McLouth took over for him in right field in the bottom of the inning.
After the game, Werth said his ankle was sore but he hoped to play Tuesday. He said he would see how he feels in the morning.
When Werth exited the game, the Nationals had a comfortable 6-0 lead and Zimmermann was cruising. Zimmermann’s previous start — his first one back from a biceps strain that forced him to miss the All-Star Game — wasn’t bad, but his command was off.
Six days later, Zimmermann eased fully back into his usual form. His pitches filled the strike zone. He carved through the Marlins’ lineup with ease. Zimmermann gave up two runs in his final inning, one on a ball that resulted in a triple after McLouth dived for it instead of trying to knock it down.
For much of his start, Zimmermann had a 1-0 lead. But in the sixth inning, the Nationals’ bats broke out against hard-throwing Marlins starter Nathan Eovaldi and they took a 6-0 lead. Slowly, the Marlins chipped away at the deficit against Zimmermann and Detwiler, and then Soriano and Blevins.
After the game, Soriano sat at his locker, still in uniform, staring at the wall with a towel wrapped around his hands. He then spoke to reporters, and Blevins followed suit. All were ready to push past the nasty loss.
“In baseball, you’re going to have your ups and downs,” Blevins said. “It’s a long season. We’ll go get ’em tomorrow. I’m not worried one bit about Sori.”