The Marlins opened the ninth inning Wednesday looking like they were ready to steal another game from the division-leading Washington Nationals.
Giancarlo Stanton hit his 24th home run of the season, Adeiny Hechavarria delivered another clutch, run-scoring extra-base hit, and with two outs and the tying run on second, MLB pinch-hit leader Reed Johnson was stepping into the batter’s box.
But there was no magical Marlins comeback this time.
Drew Storen got Johnson to send a routine bouncer to third, and the Nationals went on to escape with a 4-3 victory — salvaging the final game of the three-game series — in front of 26,319 at Marlins Park.
“With how many of those games we’ve been in and won, we always feel like we have a good shot at the end,” said Johnson, who leads the majors with 13 pinch hits this season including one in their eighth walk-off win of the season Monday.
“It was just a shame we couldn’t get it done [Wednesday].”
The loss ended the Marlins’ season-long, six-game winning streak. But after winning nine of their past 11 games, the good news for the Marlins (53-54) is that they’re heading toward Thursday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline as buyers and not sellers.
Stanton said he was not going to give one thought to the rumors of whom the Marlins might acquire “until they have a name tag” in the clubhouse.
But it still has to be nice to hear that the front office is talking about adding a piece and not taking one away, right?
“For sure,” said Stanton, who stole his 10th base of the season in the sixth inning, joining Mike Trout and Todd Frazier as the only players this season with at least 20 home runs and 10 steals.
“But nothing’s been done. So it’s talk. I don’t worry about talk.”
Although he took the loss Wednesday, left-hander Brad Hand gave the Marlins another stellar start, and second baseman Jordany Valdedspin provided another big lift.
Valdespin, who scored the winning run Tuesday and has made some big plays since being called up July 19 from the minors, tied the score at 1 when he hit a Tanner Roark pitch four rows into the upper deck in right field to open the fourth inning.
Hand, who has been phenomenal since being reintroduced into the rotation July 3, once again had long stretches of dominance. He twice retired nine in a row during Wednesday’s game.
But a pinch-hit leadoff double by Scott Hairston in the eighth followed by a bunt single by Denard Span — a play the Marlins challenged and lost — eventually ended Hand’s day with the score tied at 1 and nobody out in the eighth.
Manager Mike Redmond summoned A.J. Ramos from the bullpen and he was able to retire Anthony Rendon with a soft flyout to center.
With first base open, Redmond could have walked Jayson Werth to load the bases in an attempt to try and induce an inning-ending double play. But instead the Marlins opted to pitch to Werth and he broke the tie with a sacrifice fly to left.
After a wild pitch and a walk to LaRoche, Ian Desmond delivered the big blow when he smacked a two-run, two-out single to left off Ramos to make it 4-1.
“Both LaRoche and Werth were 0 for 6, 0 for 7 off AJ and the one guy who had good numbers off him was Desmond. So he was the one guy that we ultimately didn’t want to see come up there,” Redmond said. “That whole inning changes if we get the out on the bunt. But we had the matchup, we had the guy on the mound that we wanted in the situation. Like I said, we get the out on the bunt and we might have got through that with no runs or maybe one run.”
The Marlins didn’t generate much at all against Roark. He walked Christian Yelich to open the first and then retired nine in a row before Valdespin’s homer. Garrett Jones reached on an infield single later in the fourth and Hechavarria smacked a two-out single to right in the seventh. But that was it.
Hand gave up five hits, three earned runs and two walks. He’s now 2-2 with a 2.70 ERA in five starts since being put back into the rotation.
“I feel like I didn’t have my best stuff [Wednesday],” Hand said. “Not very many first-pitch strikes. Just battled.”