Miami Marlins' starter Henderson Alvarez held the Washington Nationals to five hits in five scoreless innings on the mound in Nationals Park on Wednesday night before he was lifted from the start with tightness in his right elbow.
Right-handed reliever Chris Hatcher replaced Alvarez in the sixth inning of what was then a 4-0 game in the Marlins' favor.
The Nats promptly loaded the bases on the with one out and after Kevin Frandsen K'd swinging for the second out of the inning, a two-out, two-run double to right by Nate McLouth cut the Marlins' lead in half.
Danny Espinosa walked in the first at bat against Dan Jennings after the left-hander replaced Hatcher on the mound and an error on a Denard Span grounder allowed the Nationals' third run to come in, but Anthony Rendon stranded two when he flew out to Giancarlo Stanton in deep right field to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Wilson Ramos hit his first home run of the season into the visitor's bullpen in left to tie things up at 4-4 as the Nationals once again recovered from an early deficit.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Nationals loaded the bases against Marlins' lefty Mike Dunn with no one out.
Rendon K'd swinging after battling Dunn for 10 pitches and fouling off five two-strike offerings. Jayson Werth got a 1-0 fastball he liked and popped out for the second out of the inning. Adam LaRoche pushed Dunn up to 35 pitches with an eight-pitch at bat that ended with a groundout to first, after which the Nationals and Marlins were still tied.
"I think Anthony had a pretty good at bat," Nats' skipper Matt Williams said after what ended up being an 8-5 extra innings loss. "[He] fouled off a number of pitches. Jayson got a pitch to hit and popped it up. I mean, it was a good pitch to hit. And then [LaRoche] battled in an at bat. He fouled off a few and ended up grounding out. But sometimes that's the way the game goes. You never want it go that way, sometimes that's the way it goes. The fact that we came back to tie it is a really good thing. The fact that we had that opportunity is a really good thing it just didn't happen."
Wilson Ramos lined to right to start the bottom of the ninth, but was thrown out by Stanton on a strong throw in from the right field corner while trying to take second on the hit.
"[Stanton's] going to the line," Williams explained. "It's an in-between bounce for him and he turned around and made a perfect throw. You can't take their aggressiveness away from them and say that that's not a good play. [Stanton is] going away from the base and he turned around and made a great throw. So, all those opportunities we had and it just didn't happen."
Frandsen and McLouth singled in back-to-back two-out at bats later in the ninth, putting runners on first and third for Greg Dobbs, who popped out to first on the first pitch he saw from Kevin Slowey.
The Marlins then scored four runs in the top of the tenth to jump out to an 8-4 lead.
The Nationals ended the night 2 for 11 with runners in scoring position.
"It's frustrating," Williams told reporters afterwards. "Everybody is frustrated by it, but there's nothing we can do about it now except prepare for Friday. So, certainly, if you get a chance like we had, bases loaded, nobody out, you want to score that run. Didn't happen tonight. We'll keep pushing, keep playing hard. They battled back, tied it, just couldn't get it done."
With the loss, the Nationals fell to 25-27 on the season. They are 9-15 in May, 2-7 in their last nine, 3-5 at home over the last two weeks and now two games under .500 on the year.
They're three games out of first in the NL East.
So is all the losing getting to the Nationals?
"It's never easy to lose," Williams said. "This stretch has been a tough one, but the attitude is there and it's good and we wouldn't be able to come back like we did if it's not. So, I'm happy about that and unfortunately we're in the results business, so if the result is not what we want it to be then it's not a good thing. But I'm proud of the way that they continue to hang in there and battle. Didn't happen tonight for us."
It hasn't happened for the Nationals more often than not so far this season. But they're still only three games out of first in the NL East. Davey Johnson waited all summer for a run that didn't come until it was too late.
Can Matt Williams' Nationals figure things out before it's too late? It's only 52 games into the season, but it's not "early" any more.