Bryce Harper's second inning blast to right field in Marlins Park put the Washington Nationals up 1-0 early in the series finale in Miami on Sunday. Two runners reached in the third, giving Ian Desmond a two-out opportunity which ended with a called strike three on a questionable third strike.
After missing out on a chance to add to their lead, things went awry for Nats' starter Gio Gonzalez in the home-half of the fourth inning.
Gonzalez was almost out of the inning when it did. Giancarlo Stanton singled to start the frame, and Marcell Ozuna took a free pass in the next at bat, but the Nats' lefty retired the next two batters and pulled a weak chopper to second out of Ichiro Suzuki. It was weak enough, however, that Ichiro was able to beat Nationals' second baseman Danny Espinosa's throw to first. Ichiro was safe, but Stanton rounded third and went too far down the line.
Ryan Zimmerman hustled in toward home and threw the ball to catcher Wilson Ramos, who chased Stanton back up the line toward third but went for the tag instead of tossing the ball to Yunel Escobar. Stanton faked a stop and then lunged toward the bag, sliding in awkwardly but safe...
Instead of an inning-ending TOOTBLAN, the Marlins lucked into a bases-loaded, two-out opportunity that hot-hitting shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria took advantage of, turning a center-cut 0-1 fastball from Gonzalez around and lining it to right-center for a base-clearing, three-run triple that put Miami up 3-1.
The Nationals cut into the Marlins' lead in the top of the fifth, scoring a run on an RBI single by Denard Span, but the Fish added two in the bottom of the inning and one more in the sixth for a 6-2 lead that held up, giving Miami three-straight wins over the defending NL East Champs.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams talked after the game about the botched rundown being a turning point in the Nationals' fifth straight loss.
"We can get out of that inning by executing the rundown," Williams said.
"I don't why [Ramos] didn't give the ball up, but he decided not to give the ball up to Yuni. I think that we can certainly take advantage of guys in scoring position a lot better than we have and we'll continue to work on that. I know that the big inning was a result of us not executing. So you give them extra outs that's what happens sometimes. So we need to do a better job all around."
Gonzalez declined to blame the poor execution on the rundown for what followed, saying it didn't affect him and talking instead after the loss about the pitch to Hechavarria.
"What affected me was falling behind on hitters," Gonzalez said. "Up in the plate. Wasn't attacking the strike zone as much. Realistically, it happens in baseball. As a starting pitcher you have to go out there and minimize the damage, and obviously I didn't do that. I have to make a better pitch to Hechavarria, even knowing the situation, you have to, as a starting pitcher you have to make the adjustment. Again, that's all me, that was all my mistake. Left the pitch out over the plate and he executed a pitch where he's supposed to."
Gonzalez was off to a strong start before the error, with three scoreless innings on 48 pitches, but the trouble did begin with the single and walk to the first two batters in the fourth.
Williams said the unsuccessful rundown derailed the left-hander.
"The derailing factor was giving them the extra one," he said. "But, I thought [Gonzalez] was fine up until that point.
"One swing of the bat is three runs and it's hard to come back from that. Then they added a couple. So it's difficult when those things happen, but we have to continue to play nine innings and make sure that we're battling the whole way. Today it didn't happen for us."