Miami Marlins

Marlins’ season-long winning streak ends at six after Nationals rally with late homers

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after hitting the game winning three-run home run against the Miami Marlins during the eighth inning at Nationals Park on May 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 24: Juan Soto #22 of the Washington Nationals celebrates after hitting the game winning three-run home run against the Miami Marlins during the eighth inning at Nationals Park on May 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) Getty Images

The margin for error has been thin all throughout the Miami Marlins’ season-long six-game winning streak. Their three wins against the Detroit Tigers included an extra-innings victory, a three-run comeback and a ninth-inning grand slam. They blew leads at times, dug early holes at others and stagnated on offense from time to time, and it never quite caught up to them until Friday.

The Marlins started a four-game series against the Washington Nationals by building an early lead, only to let the Nationals steadily chip away until the margin was once again razor thin in the final innings — thin enough for back-to-back eighth-inning home runs off Tayron Guerrero to turn a late lead into a 12-10 loss in Washington. With those two swings, Miami’s six-game streak, its longest since 2016, came to an end.

“You feel good to start off — really good — and really all night long offensively. We kind of kept swinging the bats and it was just one of those nights we couldn’t hold them,” Don Mattingly said. “We tried pretty much everything to hold them tonight and it seemed like everything we did, we weren’t able to get those outs we needed.”

Juan Soto and slugger Matt Adams went back-to-back off the relief pitcher in the bottom of the eighth just after Miami (16-32) grasped a late lead in front of 29,173 anxious fans at Nationals Park. Second baseman Starlin Castro gave the Marlins a 9-8 lead on Washington (20-31) with an RBI single off relief pitcher Kyle Barraclough, leaving relief pitchers Nick Anderson and Guerrero to try to get the final outs.

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Anderson (1-2) struck out Trea Turner to lead off the inning, then walked back-to-back batters, leaving Mattingly to dig into the bullpen once again. The manager made his third double switch of the game to insert Guerrero to face the middle of the Nationals’ order, starting with Soto.

The right-handed pitcher fell behind right away. He threw two out of the zone, then Soto fouled one off. Guerrero threw another ball. The outfielder knew what had to be coming: a 100-mph fastball.

“You pretty much know what he’s going to do and it just becomes, Who’s going to be better?” Mattingly said. “Juan won that one.”

Guerrero said he missed his spot and his 100-mph four-seam fastball wound up right over the heart of the plate. The 20-year-old star sent it 103 mph back in the other direction, 399 feet to the crowd in center.

“It was very hard for me because I have to come right away and attack,” Guerrero said, “and I fell behind and I had to throw another fastball. And he put a good swing on it.”

Five pitches later, Adams cranked a 102-mph for a homer to right-center. Sean Doolittle replaced Barraclough (1-1) and immediately gave up a lead-off homer to catcher Jorge Alfaro before working around two more hits to notch his ninth save of the season. The longest active winning streak in the Majors ended despite Miami collecting 15 hits and matching a season-high with 10 runs.

Throughout their winning streak, the Marlins primarily won because of pitching. In the six games, Miami’s starting pitchers combined to post a 1.85 ERA, the second best in MLB in the time frame. The starters won four of those games because their offense picked them up early. It didn’t always mean they were pounding out double-digit hits and stringing together multi-run innings, but they were finally doing enough to support their starting staff, which entered Friday with the 11th best ERA in the Major Leagues.

The hitters did their part early and throughout. The Marlins jumped ahead 2-0 in the first on a two-run homer by slugging third baseman Brian Anderson, but starting pitcher Pablo Lopez gave one right back on a solo homer by outfielder Adam Eaton. Miami scored two more in the second when Lopez slapped a two-run single up the middle, but the starting pitcher gave the lead back in the third when a two-run homer by Anthony Rendon capped a three-run inning. Outfielder Curtis Granderson immediately put the Marlins back ahead with a homer to lead off the fourth, but Lopez couldn’t make it through the frame. Mattingly lifted the righty after he allowed seven hits and four earned runs in just 3 2/3 innings.

Even after Miami broke through with three runs in the fifth to stretch the lead to 8-4, the bullpen couldn’t handle its lengthy burden. Everyone ran into trouble and every one of the five relievers, who combined to allow eight earned runs in 4 2/3, entered in the middle of an inning.

“It was equal opportunity giving up some runs there tonight. Those guys have basically been great all year. We just hit the wrong night,” Mattingly said. “We kept getting the lead. They kept getting it back.”

Wei-Yin Chen was first out of the bullpen, bailing out Lopez in the fourth, then giving up one run in the fifth. Austin Brice replaced the pitcher to finish the frame with a strikeout, then he gave up a run in the sixth. Fellow relief pitcher Adam Conley came to rescue Brice this time and got the final two outs of the sixth, then he gave up two in the seventh and Washington tied the game at 8-8.

The Marlins had one final punch in them and Castro pushed them back ahead with his eighth-inning single. Despite all the middle-inning misadventures, Miami didn’t trail until the bottom of the eighth when Guerrero had to rescue Anderson. Instead, they simply hung on for dear life. Eventually, their grip — and the winning streak — was bound to break.

“At some point, with so many games to be played, you’re going to lose one of them there and the streak obviously is great, but, as they say, everything’s always eventually going to come to an end,” Granderson said. “The good thing is we get a chance to come right back out here again tomorrow and hopefully start something else.”