All season long, the Washington Nationals had done nothing but win against the Marlins in their home park. Eight games had resulted in eight victories.
And then came Sunday.
The Marlins not only broke through for the first time, but also dealt the Nationals a crippling blow with a 4-2 victory in the first game of a doubleheader in which the outcome sealed the National league East title for the Atlanta Braves and pushed Washington to the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.
It mattered little that the Marlins lost Sunday’s nightcap 5-4 on a Chris Coghlan fielding error in the ninth.
The Nationals needed to sweep the four-game series from the Marlins to preserve what little hope they had of pulling off an end-of-season miracle and win a wild-card spot. It didn’t happen.
Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich homered, starter Tom Koehler turned in six strong innings, and closer Steve Cishek put the lid on the victory and tied a franchise saves record in the process. The performance ran Cishek’s streak of consecutive saves to 27, tying Todd Jones’ 2005 team mark.
“I had a little more adrenalin pumping,” Cishek said. “It felt like a playoff atmosphere. The fans were really into it, and those guys were digging in. Every at-bat was huge for them.”
Said Koehler: “This is a good experience for us, because obviously we’re not in it. To get to play against teams [fighting to reach the playoffs] is nice because you’re going against guys that are locking in. It’s good for us to get a taste of that.”
Koehler inherited a first-inning lead when Stanton belted a two-run homer off Dan Haren, and Yelich followed two innings later with a solo shot to make it a 3-0 advantage.
The Nationals didn’t get on the board until Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run shot off Koehler in the sixth to make it 3-2.
But the Marlins got a run back in the seventh after Juan Pierre opened the inning with a pinch-hit single, stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Donovan Solano’s sacrifice fly.
The Marlins grabbed an early 2-0 lead on Stephen Strasburg in the second game but couldn’t maintain it. Trailing 3-2 in the sixth, the Nationals took a 4-3 lead on Denard Span’s two-run single off Dan Jennings.
Stanton tied it in the eighth with a RBI double.
But the Nationals won in the ninth on Coghlan’s error. With runners at second and third and one out, Wilson Ramos hit a ground ball to third that Coghlan booted, allowing the winning run to score.
Pierre passed Joe DiMaggio on the all-time list in career hits with a pinch-hit single in the seventh inning of Game 1. That gave Pierre 2,216 career hits, one more than the Hall of Famer.
Pierre now ranks 175th all-time in hits, eight behind Darrell Evans and Carlos Beltran.
The hit for Pierre, a leadoff single off Ryan Mattheus, turned out to be a big one as he eventually came around to score and give the Marlins a 4-2 lead.
“It really makes you feel a part of the game when that stuff happens, because that’s basically been what my career’s been based on,” Pierre said. “It felt pretty good to impact the game right there. To get my uniform dirty, like a little kid, I feel like I did something.”
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