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The Nationals played the Florida Marlins on Saturday, in a 5-4 game decided by an eighth-inning rally that went like this: Hit by pitch, single (runners advance on an error by the first baseman), groundout, intentional walk, hit by pitch to score the winning run.
Quick guess: Is that how the Nationals won the game or lost it?
Remember that the Marlins had beaten the Nationals 30 of the last 40 times the two teams have played, winning by all manner of bizarre outcomes including, but not limited to: Weekend-long bullpen meltdowns, bizarre throwing errors, balls lost in the sun, inside-the-park homers and the occasional rain-shortened game ending just after Florida took the lead.
It's been a two-year sequence of events almost bizarre enough to border on the conspiratorial, as if the baseball gods were in on the job. Which made Saturday's win all the more delicious for the Nationals.
Jim Riggleman talks with the media after the Nats' 5-4 win over the Marlins
The rally they used to win the game was one of those pinball-style sequences that have gone against the Nationals so many times. That it broke in their favor on Saturday is yet another sign things are different around here, and after all the ways they've lost games to the Marlins, nobody in the victorious clubhouse was complaining about how they won Saturday.
"That's the good thing right now. We would've lost this game last year," said first baseman Adam Dunn, who drove in the winning run when he got hit in the right shoulder by a Renyel Pinto fastball with the bases loaded in the eighth inning. "It seems like we're finding ways to win close games that last year, and in the past, we would've lost."
The Nationals won a game they'd led 3-0 after Willie Harris' homer keyed a fourth-inning rally. Spot starter Matt Chico, who was called up from Double-A Harrisburg on Saturday morning and sent back after the game, overcame his early jitters and pitched five scoreless to start the game.
Chico grazed the corners of the plate with all of his pitches, showed a willingness to pitch inside (though that got him in trouble to start the game when his first pitch hit leadoff hitter Cameron Maybin in the foot) and changed speeds effectively.
"That first pitch, all the nerves started coming back. It felt like my first big-league game again," Chico said. "After that, it was, 'Let's go at 'em and try to get a ground ball.'"
But in the sixth, everything started to turn, as it has so many times against the Marlins. Chico allowed two runs to start the sixth, being pulled from the game after Jorge Cantu's double pulled the Marlins within one. Sean Burnett walked a batter to start the seventh. Tyler Clippard replaced him and promptly threw a fastball that, rather than hitting catcher Wil Nieves' glove on the outside part of the plate, shot up and in on Gaby Sanchez. The first baseman pulled it to left for a two-run homer that put the Marlins up 4-3.
That shot would have been enough to sink most Nationals teams. But not this one.
Josh Willingham answered with a homer off his former team in the seventh inning, tying the game again at four. Clippard retired the last four batters he faced, striking out three of them. And the Nationals started their rally when Ian Desmond got hit by a pitch, setting up Dunn's crucial hit-by-pitch four batters later.
"If it's close, I'm not going to just sit there and take it, as bad as it sounds. I think it's kind of a sissy way to do it," Dunn said. "That's a tough one to get out of the way of."
It hit Dunn square in his right shoulder - not how the Nationals planned to take the lead, but also not an outcome they minded.
"That's what's so great about being on this club right now. We care about each other," Clippard said. "I had no doubt in my mind we were going to get back in the game. It's nice to have that feeling. I felt like I kind of let the team down. But they came in the dugout and it was like, 'Alright, let's get that back. There wasn't any doubt in anybody. It's fun to see, it's fun to be around, and I'm just glad to contribute however I can."