The Marlins could hold Bryce Harper at bay for only so long.
While Tom Koehler was able to tiptoe around Harper by walking him twice early in the game, Kyle Barraclough didn’t have that luxury when Harper came up in the seventh.
With the score tied and a man on first, Harper crushed his 3-2 slider into the seats in right, propelling the Nationals to a 5-3 victory over the Marlins on Friday night.
“I’m going to pitch to him,” Barraclough said. “I’m not going to shy away. I’m going to accept the challenge, and he won this one.”
Late-inning long balls bit the Marlins not once, but three times.
Marlins reliever Bryan Morris gave up a game-tying, two-run shot to pinch-hitter Stephen Drew in the sixth right after manager Don Mattingly brought him in for Koehler. And the Nationals got another pinch-hit home run in the eighth from Chris Heisey off Dustin McGowan.
It was obviously not a good night for the Marlins’ bullpen.
While Koehler was able to wiggle out of one demanding situation after another for nearly six full innings, Marlins relievers kept getting punished when it was their turn to take the mound.
Koehler walked five batters in the first four innings and totaled 99 pitches by the time he had finished the fifth. Yet he somehow managed to hold the Nationals scoreless.
“It was a straight fight right from the beginning,” Koehler said. “Just was fortunate enough to make the pitch at the right time. The game could have got out of hand early.”
The Marlins scratched out two runs in the fifth inning thanks to a pair of fielding errors by Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy. Murphy mishandled a potential double-play ground ball for one error. But it was his wild throw to first that allowed two runners to score for the Marlins.
But it was a dismal night otherwise at the plate for Miami.
With a chance to pad their lead, the Marlins came up empty after loading the bases with no outs in the sixth.
And the missed opportunity came back to haunt them in the bottom half of the inning.
Koehler had to make a case to Mattingly to go back out for the sixth. When the manager came to get him after Jose Lobaton’s single, Koehler said he couldn’t plead with him again.
“The decision was pretty much made up,” Koehler said. “I had already petitioned my case to go back out for the sixth to begin with. There’s only so much begging you can do on one night.”
In came Morris, who threw a first-pitch strike to Drew. He thought his second pitch was also over the plate. But home-plate umpire Chris Guccione called it a ball, infuriating Morris.
Two pitches later, Morris hung a sinker to Drew, who parked it. Morris confronted Guccione after getting the third out.
“I let that carry over into the next two pitches,” Morris said. “I was caught up in the moment and asked about that pitch, and told him I thought it was a strike. It was unprofessional on my part, so I would like to apologize to Chris on that end.”
One inning later, it was Harper who broke the Marlins’ back with his two-run shot off Barraclough.
“I’m not going to work around him,” Barraclough said. “I’m going to go right at him and try to get him out.”
The Marlins got a run back in the eighth after Giancarlo Stanton doubled to lead off the inning and scored on Chris Johnson’s ground ball.