SAN DIEGO - Through four innings Friday night, Jason Marquis had a no-hitter going. Through five, he'd allowed one hit, and still had a shutout. But by the sixth inning, his night was on the verge of falling apart at the same juncture the Nationals have lost a handful of games this season.
Entering Friday night, they had been outscored 27-11 in the sixth inning this year. They'd lost two leads, and fell behind four more times after entering the sixth inning tied. And the Nationals had tied or taken the lead in the sixth inning only twice this year. Things started poorly enough for Marquis in the sixth, too, when he gave up two hits and a walk to start the inning. He then allowed the Padres' only run to score when he barely missed with a 3-2 fastball and walked Ryan Ludwick.
But it was at that point Marquis composed himself, got out of the sixth inning and kept the Nationals ahead for good in a game they badly needed.
They won 2-1 on Friday night, with Michael Morse's home run being their only offense. Instead, they slipped past the Padres with solid defense and a pitching staff that wriggled out of every jam it faced - none more difficult than the one Marquis escaped in the sixth inning.
With the bases still loaded, he worked through a six-pitch at-bat with highly-touted rookie Anthony Rizzo. In only one of those pitches did Marquis throw him a fastball.
"I'm going to attack him with a pitch that maybe he'll chase and present it as a strike," Marquis said. "I'm pretty sure a young guy, in that situation, wants to be really aggressive - or anybody. I know I would at the plate. I'm going to make a pitcher's pitch."
The rest of the pitches were either sliders or changeups; Marquis threw three changeups to Rizzo and just four the rest of the night. And with a 3-2 count, he got Rizzo to chase a changeup.
"There's two instances (in that inning) where it was 3-2," closer Drew Storen said. "We call them down in the bullpen 'man pitches' right there. You've got to man up. It's easy to kind of feel sorry for yourself - you give up a couple runs and go, 'Now I put myself in this position.' But you can tell he's a veteran guy. He took a deep breath, regrouped and made a quality pitch to get out of it."
Said Rizzo: "I don't think he got me chasing. That was just a great pitch. That changeup was in the strike zone, and then it dropped out. I don't know of anybody who could have laid off."
And in the end, it helped the Nationals escape an inning that has hurt them all year.
"You see that he's trusting his best pitch and trusting his ability," Storen said. "It'd be easy for him to give in and just throw a fastball in there and hope for the best. But he's making that man pitch. That was fun to watch."