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Miami Marlins drop the ball during late meltdown against Nationals

All Mike Dunn had to do was keep his eye on the ball, watch it into his glove and step on the bag for the out. It was that simple, a routine play that’s practiced ad nauseum at the start of every spring training.

But the Marlins reliever shifted his gaze downward, making sure that his right foot would come in contact with the first-base bag, and the outcome proved catastrophic.

Dunn dropped the soft toss throw from first baseman Carlos Lee for a one-out error, opening the floodgates in a six-run eighth inning by the Nationals that culminated Saturday in a 10-7 come-from-behind victory.

“I don’t know if I squeezed the glove too soon or what,” Dunn said. “I just felt it hit off the end of the glove, and it wasn’t in the glove. I’d like to know the last time I dropped a ball like that.”

Said manager Ozzie Guillen of the turning-point play: “We practice that [expletive] thing from the first day of spring training. We practice that [expletive] 24 [expletive] hours every day. And that was the baseball game right there.”

By the time manager Ozzie Guillen took him out, electing to stick with the lefty Dunn even though right-hander Steve Cishek was in the bullpen set to enter, the damage was done. Guillen said that he didn’t bring in Cishek because he thought the Nationals would counter by sending up one of their two available lefty pinch-hitters, Roger Bernadina or Chad Tracy. Dunn had given up six runs on four hits in the decisive eighth, including back-to-back home runs by Danny Espinosa and Bryce Harper.

The meltdown denied Mark Buehrle his 10th win and wasted a surprisingly strong night for a Marlins lineup that featured five batters with averages of .174 or lower. The seven runs scored by the Marlins was the team’s highest offensive output since a 9-5 win over the Cubs on July 17 — 18 games ago.

“If you think we’re going to score that many runs with the lineup we had, that’s shocking,” Guillen said. “And it’s nice to see that. But I guess that’s the kind of year I’m going to have this year. It was fun for seven innings, eight innings, and all of a sudden, whoops, there we go again.”

It all went for naught when Dunn came unraveled in the eighth after dropping what should have been the second out of the inning. He walked the next hitter, followed by consecutive singles by Steve Lombardozzi and pinch-hitter Tyler Moore, which were followed by the two home run blasts. The Nationals scored all six runs while there were two outs.

“I also had two outs and nobody scored,” Dunn said. “To give up six runs with two outs, that’s just me letting the team down. We played good enough to win the game, and I blew it, plain and simple.”

Jose Reyes extended his hitting streak with a double off Jordan Zimmermann in his second at-bat. The 23-game streak matches the longest of the season in the majors and ranks as the fourth-longest in Marlins history. Reyes has had at least one hit in every game since the All-Star break. He also becomes the first reigning NL batting champion since Stan Musial in 1952 to produce a hitting streak of at least 22 games.

But Reyes isn’t the only Marlin swinging a hot bat. Lee might be nothing more than a rental, but he has delivered the way the Marlins were hoping he would when they obtained him in a trade with the Houston Astros. Lee is riding a 10-game hitting streak and Saturday had RBI hits in the third and fourth innings. Lee has driven in 19 runs in his 27 games with the Marlins.

The Marlins didn’t do it all with their bats though. Washington shortstop Espinosa cost the Nationals two runs with his throwing error on a double-play ball in the second inning and another throwing error in the fifth was also a contributing factor in the Marlins’ two-run inning that put them back on top after the Nationals had evened the score at 3 in the third.

And in the seventh inning, a fielding miscue by Nationals second baseman Lombardozzi resulted in another unearned run when Donovan Solano dropped down a well-placed, suicide-squeeze bunt that enabled Reyes to race home from third without a throw to the plate.

But it all came crashing down in the end. Heath Bell, who took over in the seventh for Buehrle, cruised through his inning by retiring all three batters he faced, two on strikeouts. Next came Dunn, who took over in the eighth and took care of Michael Morse, his first batter, on a ground ball.

But it was Adam LaRoche’s routine ground ball to Lee at first that started the avalanche. Dunn reached the bag in plenty of time to take Lee’s throw. But he took his eyes off the ball, causing him to miss the throw, and LaRoche reached safely.

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