All of us who pine for the days when baseball games routinely breezed by in a couple of hours should have bought tickets for Monday's July 4 matinee at Nationals Park.
With pitchers finding the zone, batters swinging early and often, runners freely trying for extra bases, and the Nationals’ bullpen offering a repeat performance from Sunday’s loss, the Marlins beat the Nats 3-2 in a 10-inning game that took just two hours and 53 minutes of everyone’s time.
Everyone who had seen Nats’ closer Tanner Rainey give up go-ahead run with two out in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Marlins had a chance to check out of this one even earlier, before he gave an almost repeat performance.
Rainey struck out Jesús Aguilar and Brian Anderson to start the ninth and had a one-ball count on Bryan De La Cruz when the Miami outfielder launched a high drive that banged off the top of the left-field foul pole, scoring the free runner as well for a 4-1 lead.
Before blowing his fourth save in 15 opportunities this season, Rainey was one strike away from a 4-3 Nats’ victory on Sunday when he allowed a two-run homer to Jesús Sánchez.
Manager Davey Martinez told reporters afterward he still has confidence in his closer.
“My conversation with him will be, ‘Hey, you just got to keep going,’” said Martinez. “He gets to two outs, he was throwing the ball well, and then he throws one pitch down the middle, and he got the barrel to it, I mean, he hit it hard.”
The Nats brought in a run in the bottom of the 10th against Dylan Floro after free runner Maikel Franco advanced to third on Adrianza’s leadoff single. He scored to make it 3-2 after Miami’s second baseman Joey Wendle made a diving stop of Luis García’s ground ball up the middle, turning it into a 4-6-3 double play.
Ruiz singled to bring César Hernandez up as the potential go-ahead run, but the Nats’ pinch-hitter grounded out to short to end the game.
Nats starter Patrick Corbin did his part to make the game quick by turning in one of his most efficient performances of the season, with 67 of his 97 pitches going for strikes.
That included 18 pitches in the first two innings and just six more in the third before surrendering his only run.
Corbin pitched out of trouble in the fourth and fifth, then retired six of his final seven batters to finish with eight hits, one walk, four strikeouts and just the one run allowed.
The Marlins obliged by swinging early in the count, offering at the first pitch five times in the first three innings, and nine times overall in Corbin’s seven innings of work.
Both teams also ran the bases early on as if they were double parked.
Miami’s Miguel Rojas singled off Corbin on the first at-bat of the game, and with one out, decided to go from first to third on a single to left with the whole play in front of Nats’ left fielder Yadiel Hernández, who threw him out by a foot.
Two innings later, Victor Robles had the Nats’ second hit of the game when a high pop to shallow right fell between first baseman Aguilar and right fielder De La Cruz. With no one covering first, Robles rounded the corner and headed for second, where De La Cruz threw him out easily.
Miami’s early swings were successful in the third when Luke Williams dropped a bunt down the third base line for a singe, and Billy Hamilton executed the Marlins’ first sacrifice bunt of the season. Williams wasted no time in stealing third, and Corbin got ahead of Miguel Rojas 1-2 before Rojas lined straight to Maikel Franco at third, while Williams got back to third to avoid the double play.
Jesus Aguilar drove the second pitch he saw from Corbin down the left field line for and RBI single that put the Marlins up 1-0.
Miami left-hander Braxton Garrett was even more efficient than Corbin, throwing just 83 pitches, 57 for strikes, and he did not let a Nats’ runner get to second base until the eighth, when he surrendered the game-tying run with one out.
“They keep our hitters off-balance, and it takes us a while to figure out,” Martinez said.
The Nats’ hitters started getting good looks at fastballs higher in the strike zone as Garrett tired in the eighth.
Ehire Adrianza worked a 3-1 count from Garrett before taking a four-seam fastball way upstairs for a one-out walk.
Adrianza stole second, and Luis García sent him home on a single to right field to make it 1-1 and chase Garrett.
Miami reliever Zach Pop gave up a single to Kiebert Ruiz to out men on first and second, prompting Nats’ manager Davey Martinez to pinch hit with Juan Soto, who had left Sunday’s 7-4 loss to Miami with a right calf injury.
Soto walked on four pitches to load the bases and was lifted to pinch-runner Alcides Escobar.
But Lane Thomas and Josh Bell popped out to end the threat and set the stage for a second straight day of late- and extra-inning drama.