Once the rain finally abated enough Friday night to start the game at Nationals Park, the tarp shielding the infield was removed to unveil a white “16” outlined in Miami Marlins orange on the pitcher’s mound in honor of Jose Fernandez, the radiant Marlins star killed in a boating accident Sunday. In the Washington Nationals’ dugout, a white Nationals jersey, with the No. 16 and Fernandez across the back, hung on the wall.
A few minutes later, a video tribute to the pitcher was shown on the videoboard with the Marlins and Nationals lined up behind each baseline. Opponents this weekend but baseball comrades above all, the teams tipped their caps to each other as the crowd cheered when the montage concluded. Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, a close friend of Fernandez who attended his funeral Thursday in Miami, sobbed as he tipped his lid.
The clubs then retreated to their respective dugouts to play a baseball game, an eventual 7-4 Marlins victory, delayed 1 hour 43 minutes because of rain. The Marlins (79-80), winners in their first road game since Fernandez’s death, pounced on Nationals right-hander A.J. Cole early, tacked on three more runs against Washington’s bullpen, and coasted behind a dominant no-hit performance from their own bullpen over the final five innings.
The Nationals scored all four of their runs off Miami starter Andrew Cashner in the fourth inning and didn’t get any help from Bryce Harper, who went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts in his first game back after missing four because of a left thumb injury.
“I felt great tonight,” Harper said. “I felt really good. Even with the four strikeouts. It happens. I missed some pitches I should’ve drove. I felt great.”
The result doesn’t impact the Marlins’ playoff standing; they were long out of contention. But it could for the Nationals (93-67). With the defeat and the Dodgers’ 9-3 loss to the Giants, Washington’s magic number to clinch home-field advantage in the National League Divisional Series is one with two games left in the regular season.
The Nationals, however, have conceded a better chance to secure home-field in order to maximize good health. Examples abound. Washington played it safe before having Harper return Friday and second baseman Daniel Murphy wasn’t in the starting lineup for the 12th straight game because of a strained buttocks. He isn’t expected to return until Game 1 of the NLDS Oct. 7.
And on Friday, Manager Dusty Baker decided to pull left fielder Jayson Werth after Werth told him tightness flared up in his back and side. After the game, the 37-year-old Werth said his departure was precautionary. He said he underwent tests immediately after exiting and a strain was ruled out.
“If I’m not in there [Saturday], I’d be surprised,” Werth said. “It’s possible it could still be tight tomorrow, but I don’t think we’re dealing with anything that’s anything other than tightness in there.”
Major League Baseball handed Cole a five-game suspension Tuesday for throwing a ball behind Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang’s head last weekend, but he appealed the ban and was eligible to pitch Friday. The right-hander didn’t pitch for long.
The Marlins, whose lineup on the scoreboard was listed under the back of Fernandez’s jersey instead of a team logo that typically appears there, scored four runs off Cole and chased him after 47 pitches in three innings. Two runs were unearned in the third inning after Danny Espinosa and Stephen Drew’s miscommunication on an infield popup, more difficult than usual because of the windy and rainy conditions, resulted in the ball bouncing off Drew’s glove and batter Derek Dietrich standing at second base.
The other two runs were tallied in the second inning on RBI singles to center field. The 24-year-old Cole, once a highly touted prospect, will finish with a 5.17 ERA in 38 1/3 innings with the Nationals after starting the season with Class AAA Syracuse.
“From the start, I felt pretty good,” Cole said. “The weather wasn’t the best out there, but I went out basically the same way I always do, trying to locate my stuff and get outs. A lot of their hits were where our players weren’t. I don’t really think they hit me that hard.”
Washington had a man reach base in each of the first three innings against Andrew Cashner — Trea Turner walked to lead off the first, Clint Robinson singled with one out in the second, and Turner tripled in the third — but wasted each opportunity. Then the Nationals unloaded on Cashner in the fourth.
First, Anthony Rendon clobbered a fastball into the visiting bullpen in left field for his 20th home run to lead off the frame. He became the sixth National to reach 20 home runs, tying the National League record set by the 1965 Milwaukee Braves and 2003 Atlanta Braves. The St. Louis Cardinals matched the feat a few minutes later. Drew followed with another home run, his eighth, to give the Nationals back-to-back homers for the 14th time.
Two batters after a Robinson single, Jose Lobaton smacked a double to the wall in right-center field to score Robinson from first. Wilmer Difo, pinch-hitting in the pitcher’s spot, then walked before Turner slapped a single. The hit plated Lobaton, but right fielder Marcell Ozuna’s throw got Difo at third base. The play was reviewed and upheld. Instead of one out, there were two, and Werth flew out to end the frame.
The Marlins seized the lead with two outs in the sixth inning, when Dee Gordon beat out a soft chopper to Espinosa at shortstop by a step for an infield single that scored Justin Bour.
They padded the lead with runs in the seventh and ninth — unnecessary insurance because the Nationals couldn’t solve their bullpen. Washington went 0 for 15 with 10 strikeouts against five Miami relievers, each assigned an inning. The lone base runner, Robinson, reached on a walk in the ninth inning against closer A.J. Ramos, who sealed the game with three straight strikeouts. It was a collective performance reminiscent of Fernandez’s singular brilliance.