The run finally came. The win didn’t.
After 19 scoreless innings to start the season, Justin Ruggiano became the first Marlin to touch home plate when he homered in the second inning Thursday. The line-drive blast kept the Marlins from becoming the first major-league team to lose its first three games by shutout.
It wasn’t enough, however, to wipe the zero from the Marlins’ win column, as Washington completed a series sweep with a 6-1 victory at Nationals Park. The Marlins now head up to New York, where another loss Friday would give Miami a four-game losing streak that would match a franchise mark to start the season.
At least they avoided an even greater ignominy.
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According to baseballreference.com, the Marlins on Wednesday became only the 11th team since 1916 — the first year from which the statistical website keeps such records — to be shut out its first two games. No team had ever lost its first three in such manner.
Ruggiano put that possibility to rest when he opened the second inning by ripping Jordan Zimmermann’s first-pitch fastball over the wall in right. But it only whittled Washington’s lead from 2-0 to 2-1. The Marlins have yet to enjoy a lead, never mind celebrate a win.
After Ruggiano circled the bases and entered the dugout, he encouraged his teammates to keep it going.
“After it was over, I came in — ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s score some more,’” he said.
But the Marlins didn’t score again after that.
In fairness, they had the difficult task of going against two of the majors’ premier pitchers — Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez — to start the season, and their getaway-day opponent is no slouch. Zimmermann went 12-8 with a sub-3.00 (2.94) ERA last season.
The Marlins had more success with Zimmermann than they did the other two, producing more hits in six innings off the Nationals right-hander (eight) than the seven they totaled in their two previous games combined.
But they made only one of them — Ruggiano’s home run — count.
“It was nice to get us on the board,” manager Mike Redmond said of Ruggiano’s homer. “We just couldn’t get that big hit with runners in scoring position.”
In both the second and fourth innings, the Marlins had two men aboard with one out but couldn’t deliver the extra hit to score any of them. Rob Brantly and Donovan Solano opened the sixth with singles. But Adeiny Hechavarria, who had singled in each of his first two at bats, grounded into a double play and pinch-hitter Austin Kearns bounced to first, bringing a quiet end to yet another scoreless inning for the Marlins.
Marlins starter Wade LeBlanc wasn’t quite as effective as his two predecessors, Ricky Nolasco and Kevin Slowey, in their initial outings. He gave up a pair of runs in the first on Ryan Zimmerman’s double off the wall in center and one more in the third on Bryce Harper’s RBI single.
Harper feasted on Marlins pitching in the series. The National League’s Rookie of the Year last season supplied all the scoring in the first game with a pair of homers in the Nationals’ 2-0 win. He had two more hits in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory and two more Thursday.
LeBlanc settled down, though, and still managed to complete five innings.
“It’s a weird thing,” LeBlanc said of his first-inning shakiness. “No matter how many baseball games you play, that first one of the season is like the first one you’ve ever played. I don’t know how to explain it. Against big-league hitters, you kind of need to be ready from the get-go, and that’s where I need to figure out how to get to.”
The Nationals iced it in the seventh off the Marlins bullpen. Mike Dunn gave up a three-run homer to Jayson Werth that sailed over the Marlins bullpen in left.
“It’s [only] three games,” Ruggiano said. “I don’t think anyone here is really panicking.”