They got another strong start from Patrick Corbin, making it two in a row for the beleaguered lefty. They once again struggled all day to generate any kind of offense against a Marlins starter pitching the game of his life. And they yet again managed to scratch together a late run to tie the game and ultimately send it into extra innings.
At which point an all-too-familiar result awaited.
Bryan De La Cruz’s towering two-run homer off Tanner Rainey in the top of the 10th was the eventual difference, lifting the Marlins to a 3-2 victory over the Nationals. And if any of that comes as a surprise, you haven’t been paying any attention to the 13 games played between these two division foes this season.
The Nats have now lost 12 of those 13 games against Miami, including four in a row this holiday weekend, the last two in 10 innings, each of them defined by a towering home run surrendered by Rainey.
It matters not how often they put themselves in position to beat the Marlins, the Nationals simply are not able to beat the Marlins in 2022. The silver lining: They won’t see each other again until September, with six final matchups between the two remaining on the schedule.
"To be honest, both teams have played very hard," shortstop Luis García said. "They've taken advantage of the opportunities they've gotten in the games. I think that's the difference. But both teams have played very well, very hard against each other."
Sunday’s loss saw Rainey give up a two-run homer to Jesús Sánchez with two outs in the top of the ninth, blowing a save. Today’s loss saw Kyle Finnegan actually pitch the ninth in what was still a tie game, then Rainey enter for the 10th, with the automatic runner placed on second base.
He proceeded to strike out both Jesús Aguilar and Brian Anderson, leaving himself on the precipice of getting out of the inning with no damage. But then De La Cruz blasted a high 98 mph fastball down the left field line and off the pole to give Miami the lead and leave the crowd booing.
And when the Nationals went down in the bottom of the 10th, pushing across one run but not the two needed to extend the game, they fell to 3-16 in extra-inning games the last two seasons.
"I'm about as frustrated as anybody," manager Davey Martinez said. "Because a lot of the games we should win, and we're not. But those guys are frustrated, too, and they're playing hard. They're not giving up. Some of these guys are getting an opportunity to play. They're playing hard. And that's all I can ask from them."
When the bottom of the eighth began, the Nationals trailed 1-0 and had produced all of three singles – and nothing else – against Braxton Garrett, the latest member of the Marlins rotation to bulldoze through this lineup like it was made if toothpicks.
But then, at last, came a rally. It didn’t involve any power, but bit by bit it was enough to tie the game.
Ehire Adrianza drew a one-out walk (the Nats’ first of the day) and then stole second, a maneuver that proved critical when García followed with a single to right that brought Adrianza home from second with their first run of the day.
"I went, in that particular at-bat, focused on that particular pitch," García said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. "And when I got up there, I got it, so I took a good swing at it."
Manager Don Mattingly pulled Garrett at that point and entrusted the rest of the game to a Miami bullpen that was missing its top three arms (Anthony Bass, Steven Okert, Tanner Scott) because all three had pitched three days in a row. So in came Zach Pop, who immediately got himself into more trouble, surrendering a pinch-hit single to Keibert Ruiz.
And now, look who was coming up to bat out of the Nationals dugout, eliciting a roar from the holiday crowd, but none other than Juan Soto. Pulled from Sunday’s game with a tight left calf that required an MRI, Soto was out of the lineup today and suggested he may need another day or two before he would be ready to play again.
But here was an opportunity for Soto to pinch-hit with the game on the line and potentially not need to run the bases. Which is exactly how it played out, Soto drawing a four-pitch walk and staring down Pop as he made his way out of the batter’s box before Alcides Escobar pinch-ran for him.
"He went and hit in the cage, said he felt good enough to hit," Martinez said of Soto. "But he couldn't run. We didn't want him to run. He got on base for us, and we had to get him out of there."
Given Soto's inability to run, was that walk actually the best-case scenario?
"Best-case scenario was that we'd see him jog," Martinez said with a laugh. "I was actually hoping for a Kirk Gibson."
With a chance to take the lead, though, the Nationals fell flat again. Lane Thomas popped up to the catcher on the first pitch he saw. Josh Bell then sent a high fly ball to left to end the inning and send this one to the ninth knotted up.
Garrett was making only his 15th career start and entered with a 5.20 ERA and 1.766 WHIP across parts of three seasons in the majors. The Nats then made him look as good as any left-hander in the sport, barely putting up a fight against the 24-year-old.
There were three early singles, one a piece in the first, second and third innings. None presaged anything of consequence, unless you count Victor Robles turning his bloop single in the third into an easy out at second while trying to stretch it into a double.
Otherwise, Garrett worked with zero stress, recording quick outs, returning to the dugout and leaving himself in position to pitch very deep into this game.
"I was just efficient early," the Marlins lefty told reporters. "I was 0-1 a lot. And also our bullpen's a little taxed. Our late-game guys have gone ... I think it was three days in a row, and it was in the back of my mind to try and get a few more innings out just for the bullpen."
Corbin, for his part, was nearly as effective and efficient in a second straight quality outing. The left-hander gave up five early hits, all singles, but only one run, made possible by back-to-back bunts, a stolen base and Aguilar’s RBI single to left.
Five days after notching a career-high 12 strikeouts over eight sparkling innings, Corbin didn’t record his first K until the final out of the fourth, getting Luke Williams to whiff at a slider. But he struck out the side in the sixth, and that gave him a chance to return for the seventh again.
And when he finished that frame with another zero on the board, Corbin departed having turned in consecutive quality starts, all of which lowered his ERA from 6.60 to 5.68. He’s still got a long way to go, but this was as encouraging a week as he’s had in a long time.
"Like I've said, I've felt good even before this, even the couple before," he said. "I'm more looking at how the ball's coming out, how my pitches are moving, a little bit more than results. Obviously you want results, but sometimes it doesn't happen."