They waited all night for the hit that would break a deadlocked ballgame. Just one hit at the right moment to drive in the go-ahead run and put them on a path to sweep the Marlins.
And when the Nationals couldn’t get the job done during nine innings of traditional baseball, they were left to try to do it in extra innings of non-traditional baseball.
Which didn’t suit them very well. It was Miami that pushed across two runs in the top of the 10th off closer Brad Hand, while the Nats went down quietly in the bottom of the inning, left to suffer a disheartening 3-1 loss that brought a halt to their winning streak at three games.
A game that saw both sides squander what few scoring opportunities they had for nine innings ultimately fell the visitors’ way, spoiling the home team’s shot at a sweep and more momentum heading into this weekend’s Battle of the Beltways at Camden Yards.
The Nationals bullpen had been lights-out, picking up where Erick Fedde left off at the end of six quality innings. Kyle Finnegan, Daniel Hudson and Hand each pitched a scoreless frame, neither getting into any trouble, helping set the stage for their teammates to rally in the bottom of the ninth.
And when that didn’t happen, Hand returned to the mound to begin the 10th, with an automatic runner placed on second base. He would watch the runner reach third on a sacrifice bunt, then put himself in a bigger jam when he walked Jon Berti. Pinch-hitter Jorge Alfaro, the last man on the Miami bench, then ripped a first-pitch slider into the left field corner for the go-ahead double.
And when Miguel Rojas lofted a sacrifice fly to center to score Berti from third, the Nationals found themselves staring at a two-run deficit heading into their half of the 10th.
They wouldn’t so much as advance Andrew Stevenson from his perch at second base, going down in order against Marlins closer Yimi García to end the game.
On the heels of a wretched start against the Padres in which he needed 35 pitches just to complete the first inning and was pulled after walking four of the 11 batters he faced overall, Fedde took the mound tonight knowing he had to be better. Much better.
So imagine how elated he and the home dugout were when he retired the side in the top of the first on five pitches, all of them strikes.
Fedde couldn’t quite keep up that pace all night – who could? – but he continued to pitch effectively because he continued to throw strikes. Only one Marlins batter drew a walk off him during his six innings, and he averaged only 14 pitches per inning, getting quick outs and rarely laboring on the mound.
The only run to score while Fedde was on the mound was unearned, the result of a grounder bobbled at third by Josh Harrison in the top of the fourth. The Marlins would end up loading the bases with one out, and though they did push one run across, Fedde limited the damage to that, thanks to a 4-6-3 double play and a grounder to first.
He did look a bit gassed by the time he finished the sixth, his pitch count at 84. And with Finnegan warm and ready to go, Davey Martinez made the move and entrusted a 1-1 game to his bullpen.
It was a 1-1 game because a Nationals lineup that had been averaging 7.2 runs over its last 12 games was held in check by Nick Neidert, Miami’s emergency starter pressed into duty after Sandy Alcantara went on bereavement leave. Making his fifth career start, Neidert didn’t pitch a clean inning, but he took advantage of three double plays off the bats of Trea Turner and Juan Soto to prevent the Nats from mounting any kind of sustained rally.
The lone run came via a fourth-inning walk by Harrison and then a well-timed decision by the veteran to take off from first base on a 2-2 pitch to Stevenson. Stevenson drove the ball over right fielder Adam Duvall’s head, and because he was running on the pitch Harrison was able to score with ease.
That’s all the Nationals would get off Neidert, Richard Bleier and Anthony Bass, the Marlins’ first two relievers of the game. And so this one was guaranteed to be decided late, the team that could produce one more clutch hit likely to emerge victorious.