The one thing Giancarlo Stanton knew for sure was Rafael Soriano was not going to throw a strike. Ahead in the count 1-2, Soriano threw a chase pitch. Stanton chased it and crushed it.
With the Marlins down a run in the ninth Saturday, Stanton barreled Soriano’s offering to tie it. The following inning, Steve Cishek negotiated a tenuous situation with back-to-back strikeouts of Scott Hairston and Ryan Zimmerman, and Ed Lucas delivered a walk-off fielder’s choice to give the Marlins a 2-1, series-clinching win.
The sequence that catapulted the Marlins to their 14th victory in their last 20 home games began with third baseman Chad Tracy throwing away an Adeiny Hechavarria grounder for a two-base error. With the bases loaded and one out, Lucas grounded a Craig Stammen pitch to second and just beat Ian Desmond’s pivot throw.
“That’s a double play in April, right?” manager Mike Redmond said. “It’s a testament to [Lucas] getting out of the box and knowing the situation that he had to beat that play. Not that he was trying to hit it to second, but that’s the place to hit it. That’s the longest place to turn a double play. It worked for us today.”
So did Stanton’s power, which resulted in Soriano’s fourth blown save in 28 opportunities. Hitless in three career at-bats off Soriano with two strikeouts, Stanton said he wasn’t thinking home run.
“I got my hands to it,” Stanton said. “That’s the thing if the ball is up and you get your hands to it then it’s going to go if you get on top of it…I figured he wasn’t going to throw a strike, which that wasn’t. I saw a fastball and reacted to it.”
Cishek reacted with a fist pump when he struck out Zimmerman on three pitches to end the top of the 10th with men on second and third. Tracy, who led off with a pinch-hit single and replaced Zimmerman in the field in the bottom half, reached third on a Cishek wild pitch.
Hairston entered for Bryce Harper after he was ejected in the eighth for arguing balls and strikes and swung through a 2-2 sinker on the eighth pitch of the at-bat. Zimmerman chased a 0-2 slider out of the zone.
“I just wasn’t making pitches,” Cishek said. “I didn’t throw a single slider where I wanted to until I faced Zimmerman for some reason…It was weird. I felt the same.”
The lone run of the game before Stanton’s homer came on what should have been Marcell Ozuna’s ninth assist. Harper bolted from third on Jayson Werth’s fly ball in the fourth. The one-hop throw arrived well before Harper, but catcher Jeff Mathis could not secure the ball. Unaware the ball was not in Mathis’ possession, Harper steamrolled him anyway.
Harper should have been eliminated from the basepaths earlier in the inning. On first after drawing an inning-opening walk, one of three Jose Fernandez issued, Harper took a wide turn around second on Adam LaRoche’s base hit to left.
Stuck between second and third when Justin Ruggiano fielded the ball, Harper watched the throw come in behind him and bolted for third. Ruggiano made a poor delivery to second baseman Derek Dietrich, who couldn’t dig out the ball and get it to third.
All but seven of Fernandez’s 18 starts have been quality (six or more innings, three earned runs or fewer). He’s gotten either a no-decision or a loss in six of those. All four of the Nationals’ hits off him were singles.
Fernandez became the fourth pitcher in Marlins’ history with a club record five consecutive starts allowing four hits or fewer while completing five or more innings. The others: Josh Johnson (April 1-24, 2011), Chuck Smith (Sept. 10, 2000-May 6, 2001) and Al Leiter (May 11-June 1, 1996).
“You look at the box score and you wouldn’t say that was a grind, but he had to really work to execute his pitches and they did a nice job laying off and battling him,” Redmond said. “He got a little excited out there. It shows he’s still 20 years old and still learning and growing in the big leagues, but he’s a competitor.”
Added Fernandez: “I came out of my game a little bit. I tried to keep the team in the game and look what happened.”
Fernandez wasted no time in joining Josh Beckett as the only rookies in Marlins’ history to record their first 100 strikeouts inside of their first 100 innings pitched. After walking Denard Span to open the game, Fernandez got Ian Desmond to swing through a breaking ball for strike three. That gave him 99 innings pitched at 100 strikeouts.
Beckett struck out 24 batters in 24 innings in 2001. He still had rookie status the following season, when his 100th strikeout came at the 96 1/3-inning mark of his career.
Though Dan Haren entered the game having lost 10 of 14 decisions, including seven in a row, with a 6.00 ERA, the Marlins could not solve him. He held them to three singles (two by Mathis) over six shutout innings. Haren hadn’t put up that many zeros since his last shutout on May 24, 2012 as a member of the Angels against the Mariners.
The Marlins went hitless in three at-bats with runners in scoring position off Haren, who walked one and struck out seven.
Haren joined a not so exclusive group of 11 starters who have blanked the Marlins over six or more this season. Teammates Stephen Strasburg (April 1) and Gio Gonzalez (April 3) are members of that cadre as well.
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