There were no boos for Heath Bell on Memorial Day.
Well, maybe a couple when Bell started the ninth inning by falling behind 2-0 to Rick Ankiel.
But by the time Bell was done — two strikeouts and a game-ending fly out to center — 31,528 fans at Marlins Park, including owner Jeffrey Loria, had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
The Marlins’ 5-3 come-from-behind victory over the first-place Nationals not only moved the Marlins closer in the division race, it was the 19th win for the team this month — tying a franchise record for victories. Only the 1997 World Series-winning Marlins, who won 19 games that August, had a month as fruitful as this.
But of all the good moments Monday afternoon, it was seeing the team’s struggling closer — taken out in each of his two previous appearances over the weekend against the Giants — that delighted owner Loria the most.
“My favorite moment? When Heath came in and knocked them out of there, put an end to it,” said Loria, who spent $191 million this offseason, including $27 million to bring in Bell, a three-time All-Star closer in San Diego.
“[Manager] Ozzie [Guillen] leaned over and told my wife, ‘Jeffrey better go inside. He’s not going to want to watch the ninth inning.’ I said, ‘What? Are you kidding me? I always love watching Heath pitch the ninth.’ I was the guy who pushed to get him here. OK, so he’s got an uphill battle when he started. So what? He’s going to be fine. I never bet against great players, ever.”
The Marlins (27-22) didn’t necessarily get any superstar performances Monday. But they got some pretty good lifts from their usual leaders — Giancarlo Stanton, Hanley Ramirez and Jose Reyes — to knock off the Nationals (29-19), who came in from a late Sunday night game in Atlanta having swept the Braves out of first.
The Marlins fell behind 3-1 in the sixth before four consecutive hits got them back in it.
Ramirez, who finished with three hits, started the inning with a single to right. Stanton followed with his 12th home run of the season — a 412-foot blast that bounced just to the left of the letter “R’’ on the Clevelander sign in left-center.
The home run was the 11th this month for Stanton, who needs just one more to tie Dan Uggla (May 2008) for the most powerful month in team history.
“Just better pitch selection,” explained Stanton for his outburst in homers this month. “The at-bat before, I was just swinging at stuff in my face, at the dirt. He [Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann] had that same approach the next at-bat, and I took those pitches. That’s the difference.”
The Marlins’ rally continued with Logan Morrison’s double to right and Bryan Petersen’s single to left. After Zimmermann struck out John Buck swinging, Chris Coghlan sent a line drive to left just deep enough to allow Morrison to come racing home with the go-ahead run.
The Marlins then tacked on an insurance run in the seventh, thanks to a lot of hustle from Jose Reyes, who started the inning by stretching a bloop single to center into a double. Reyes then advanced to third on Omar Infante’s groundout to third and scored on Ramirez’s sacrifice fly to left.
“All you guys may want to see Stanton hit 700 feet. That’s my game right there,” Guillen said of Reyes’ hustle. “That’s the baseball I love. That run was very huge.”
Starter Carlos Zambrano went six innings for Miami, scattering seven hits and three earned runs on 111 pitches to pick up the win and improve to 3-3. But he got a lot of help in the seventh, when he left with runners on first and second and nobody out.
Left-hander Dan Jennings came in and got top prospect Bryce Harper to fly out down the line in left. Coghlan, who made a stellar running catch to preserve a Marlins win last week, made another Monday by sliding to catch Harper’s fly just before it hit the ground. He promptly got up and fired the ball into the infield, keeping Roger Bernadina at first.
“That play Coghlan made was a huge for us,” said Morrison, who also hit his first home run since April 28, a solo shot in the fourth. “I mean, I don’t make that play if I’m out there.”
Edward Mujica then came in and got Ryan Zimmerman, who blasted a two-run double earlier in the game, to ground into an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play on one pitch.
“That was awesome,’’ said Zambrano, who celebrated the play in the dugout. “I found out why they’re in first place. Those guys can hit. They have good pitching. They’re good.’’
All there was left to do after that was watch Bell finish it in the ninth.
“There was some boos on the first ball and second ball, but that’s because the fans want to win and they’re real passionate about their team,” Bell said. “... It feels really good to go out there and get the job done like I know I can, show these boys I can do it. I just have to keep going out there, pitching my game and earning my keep.”