MIAMI - The Nationals have proven they can win in blowout fashion, having done it each of the previous three days. It's the close games they're still having trouble with, and tonight was merely the latest example ... with a twist.
With an opportunity to extend their winning streak to four games and potentially pick up ground again on both the Phillies and Braves, the Nationals pulled off a top-of-the-ninth rally to tie the Marlins and send the game into extra innings, only to then lose in the bottom of the 10th when J.T. Realmuto blooped a game-winning single down the right field line off Kelvin Herrera and a five-man infield.
Shut out for eight innings by Miami rookie right-hander Trevor Richards and three relievers, the Nats scratched out the tying run off closer Kyle Barraclough when Daniel Murphy delivered a groundball single through the right side of the infield to bring home Bryce Harper from third. But with two chances to drive in the go-ahead run from 90 feet away, they couldn't finish the rally.
That proved costly once the bottom of the 10th arrived. Magneuris Sierra led off with a bunt single off Herrera, the closer brought in by manager Davey Martinez to pitch in an important tie game on the road. Miguel Rojas followed with a bunt of his own and was awarded first base when backup catcher Spencer Kieboom was called for obstructing the batter's progress running out of the box.
Brian Anderson followed with a bloop single to right, loading the bases with nobody out and forcing Martinez to use a five-man infield for the second time on this road trip. With Harper moving to first base for the first time in his career, Realmuto made it all moot, lofting a high fly ball down the right field line, the ball falling in just fair as Harper and Michael A. Taylor tried to track it down in desperation.
The Nats are now 10-18 in one-run games this season, among the reasons they remain stuck in third place in the National League East in the final weekend of July, their record back to .500.
On the bright side, Philadelphia and Atlanta both lost, though at this point squandered opportunities to gain a game on both rivals sting especially hard.
Gio Gonzalez did his part tonight to try to make it all worthwhile, churning out seven innings of one-run ball, but his offensive teammates were utterly silenced by the Marlins pitching staff for eight frames.
Having racked up a total of 19 runs the previous two nights, the Nationals put themselves in position to get tonight's game off on the right foot when Trea Turner reached third base in the top of the first via a popped-up bunt single over the first baseman's head and his first two successful stolen bases in a month.
That would be the best chance the Nats would have to score against Richards, who baffled this lineup with a changeup that proved unhittable. Of Richards' eight strikeouts during six scoreless innings, seven came via changeup.
Unable to mount any kind of offensive attack, the Nationals counted on Gonzalez to keep the game close. Which he did. The lefty wasn't always sharp, but he was effective over the course of seven innings of one-run ball.
Gonzalez's undoing, if you can call it that, came in the bottom of the fourth, which he opened with back-to-back-to-back walks. Even in that ultimate jam, though, the veteran managed to limit the damage to a minimum. Yasiel Rivera drove home one run with a sacrifice fly into foul territory down the right field line, but that's all the Marlins got.
Gonzalez even earned the trust of his manager to return to the mound for the bottom of the seventh with his pitch count already at 102. He responded by retiring the side, finally walking off the mound at the end of a 114-pitch start that was worthy of a victory.