All activity came to a sudden standstill inside the Marlins bullpen when Giancarlo Stanton stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth on Saturday night. The Marlins were down 1-0 to the Nationals, and they were down to their final three outs.
“When Stanton’s hitting, everything stops,” said Steve Cishek, who was warming up in the bullpen, just in case. “He’s capable of doing incredible damage, so I was watching him, waiting for something big to happen.”
And with one swing of the bat, something big did.
Stanton punished Rafael Soriano’s 1-2 fastball, launching it on top of the Budweiser Bow Tie bar in left-center for a game-tying home run. One inning later, Ed Lucas won it with a bases-loaded ground ball that the Nationals were unable to turn into a double play, and the Marlins scraped out a 2-1 victory.
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“That was awesome,” Cishek, who survived a shaky 10th inning, said of Stanton’s blast, which measured 434 feet. “Once the ball went up in the air, I just wanted to watch how far it went.”
The Marlins have now won three in a row and are in a position, with a victory Sunday, to close out the series with a sweep before the All-Star break.
It looked for the longest time like the Marlins would be dealt their first shutout loss since May 22 when Dan Haren shut them down for six innings and the Nationals bullpen continued the blanking into the ninth.
It was a far cry from the night before when the Marlins peppered Nationals whiz kid Stephen Strasburg for seven runs. Haren brought the highest ERA (6.00) of any National League starter into Saturday’s game, and yet the Marlins did absolutely nothing against him.
“We didn’t get much going all day off Haren,” manager Mike Redmond said. “Then Stanton got that big hit, and that kind of energized us.”
Jose Fernandez, who was making his final start before heading off to New York as the Marlins’ lone All-Star representative, was not sharp. As Redmond put it, Saturday’s performance by Fernandez was a grind.
Though Fernandez (5-5) yielded only one run, he was put to work by the Nationals, who had runners on base in every one of the rookie’s six innings.
“I came out of my game a little bit [Saturday],” Fernandez said. “I think I got a little too excited.”
Yet he managed to avoid damage in every inning but the fourth.
Bryce Harper — the Nationals’ own 20-year-old All-Star — reached on a leadoff walk. One out later, Adam LaRoche singled to left. Harper took such a long turn rounding second that he was halfway to third before, upon discovering his mistake, he hit the brakes and turned back toward second.
That’s the base where Justin Ruggiano directed his throw. But just as the outfielder released the ball, Harper did an about-face and hustled into third. One batter later, Jayson Werth lofted a fly ball to shallow center. Harper tagged on the catch by Marcell Ozuna and took off for home.
Ozuna’s throw was on the money. But catcher Jeff Mathis couldn’t come up with the ball, Harper bowled him over and the Nationals took a 1-0 lead.
It was an active night for Harper, who was ejected by home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt in the eighth after he disagreed with a called third strike. He also complained after being called out in the sixth on a called third strike thrown by Fernandez.
The ejection proved to be a costly one for the Nationals, who managed to put runners at second and third with one out in the 10th with a chance to retake the lead. But instead of Harper, Cishek faced his replacement, Scott Hairston, and struck him out. Cishek then struck out Ryan Zimmerman to end the inning.
Adeiny Hechavarria opened the 10th for the Marlins by reaching second when third baseman Chad Tracy sailed his throw into the stands. After Mathis walked and both runners advanced on a Placido Polanco bunt, Ruggiano was walked intentionally to bring up Lucas.
Lucas grounded to second, and the Nationals tried to turn two. But the ball wasn’t hit hard enough, and Lucas barely beat the throw to first as the winning run crossed the plate.
“Just to be able to give us that chance to win, and we ended up winning, was great,” Stanton said.