Soto leaves game early, Nats lose game late (updated)

There was a no-hit bid by Pablo López, who still had zeros on the board entering the seventh. There was a quality start by Erick Fedde, who limited the damage and gave his team a chance. There was the sight of Juan Soto departing the game after four innings with a left calf injury. There was an inspiring rally in the bottom of the seventh to end López’s no-hit bid and tie the game, then a go-ahead homer by Josh Bell in the bottom of the eighth to put the Nationals on the precipice of a long-awaited victory over the Marlins.

Then there was the top of the ninth, with Tanner Rainey one strike away from closing it out but surrendering a two-run homer to Jesús Sánchez to blow the save and put Miami on the precipice of victory.

But then there was the bottom of the ninth, with Victor Robles delivering the unlikely two-out RBI single to left that tied the game and forced extra innings of a ballgame that left anyone watching in person or from afar physically and emotionally exhausted.

All of which made the Marlins' three-run rally in the top of the 10th en route to a 7-4 win as big a letdown as the Nationals have experienced throughout this frustrating season. They could've lost for the 11th time in 12 games against Miami, the 52nd time in 81 games overall, in uninspired fashion. Instead, they sucked everyone in and made them believe, only to pull the rug out and leave a crowd of 25,385 stunned and downtrodden.

"I think I wear it a lot more sometimes than they do, because I want these guys all to succeed," manager Davey Martinez said. "And it's tough when I see them not. But I've got to make sure that tomorrow I pat them on the back and say: 'That's one game. We've got so many more left. Keep doing what you've been doing.' "

The final rally that sealed it came off Carl Edwards Jr., who allowed four straight singles to begin the 10th, bringing home the automatic runner plus two more. That three-run deficit was too much for the Nats to overcome at the end of a long day that had already seen them rally to score in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

"Edwards has been really good," Martinez said. "He just couldn't find the strike zone. He got behind. And he got hit pretty good."

The Nationals' first two rallies were rendered moot by Rainey, whose fourth blown save in 15 attempts this season included a familiar precursor: He issued a two-out walk to Avisaíl García, keeping the game alive and bringing Sánchez to the plate. Rainey quickly got ahead of Sánchez, 0-2, but missed on his next two pitches to even the count, then watched in horror as Sánchez turned on a 97-mph fastball at the knees and drove it into the second deck in right field for the game-flipping homer.

"He's hunting fastballs middle-in, looking to damage," the closer said. "I missed in a spot where he could do it. I'm actually not that upset about the homer. Obviously, I don't want to give it up there. It's the walk. The walk makes it a two-run homer instead of a solo shot. And if it is a solo shot, we come back in bottom nine, we walk it off and it's over."

Indeed, the Nationals picked themselves up off the mat in the bottom of the ninth, putting two on with two out. Robles then delivered his clutch RBI single to left off Marlins closer Tanner Scott to make it 4-4 and send the game into extra innings.

This loss was devastating because of the other rally that had taken place not much earlier. Bell’s 411-foot homer to left field off Steven Okert in the bottom of the eighth gave the Nats their first lead of the series. It appeared to cap off a rare late rally by the Nationals, who had been 3-41 this year when trailing after six innings.

But that homer didn’t produce the desired result. And that only made the earlier loss of Soto to injury sting more.

Though he departed the game after the bottom of the fourth, it appeared Soto hurt himself making a play in the field in the top of the third. After going back to the wall to retrieve Bryan De La Cruz’s leadoff double, then making a long throw into second base, Soto hunched over and began flexing his lower left leg. He remained in the game and drew a walk to open the bottom of the fourth, then advanced to second and third bases during subsequent plate appearances.

Then when Luis García hit a sharp grounder to first, the Marlins’ Garrett Cooper stepped on the bag and fired to the plate, where catcher Jacob Stallings got Soto into a rundown. He would eventually be called out for running outside the baseline trying to avoid a tag. By the time he was making his way back to the dugout, he did so with something of a limp.

"He said he just felt tight," Martinez said. "He went up there and hit and he said it was fine, and all of a sudden he ran and came back and said it was tightening up on him."

So when the top of the fifth began, it was Lane Thomas taking over in right field, leaving everybody in the crowd holding their breath waiting to learn what happened to Soto.

Martinez revealed afterward Soto had a tight left calf muscle. The young star had already left the clubhouse by the time reporters arrived postgame, headed for an MRI that will determine his status beyond today.

"Oh yeah, it's terrifying, obviously," Bell said. "So, you know, fingers crossed that it's not anything too time-consuming. We'll see. I know he's probably going to get the results back here soon. I know we're all holding our breath for him. I guess time will tell."

After all that with Soto, the Nationals still continued to hold their breath as López kept completing innings without surrendering a hit.

There weren’t many close calls. Though the Nationals drew three walks and had two more batters reach base through the first four innings, they could not record the clean base hit that would give them a chance to score a run.

Continuing a season-long trend, the Nats hit into three consecutive inning-ending double plays, with Yadiel Hernandez grounding to second in the second, César Hernández grounding to third in the third and García grounding to first in the fourth (the play that saw Soto get tagged out and depart the game).

López then got down to business, retiring the side in the fifth and sixth in short order and making it to the seventh with a modest pitch count of 80. Then, finally, the Nationals got to him.

Bell led off the seventh driving a ball down the left field line for a double to end the no-hit bid and leave the crowd roaring. The cheers increased moments later when Nelson Cruz lined an RBI single to left-center. They kept going when García ripped a double off the wall in right-center, with Gary DiSarcina holding Cruz up at third. And then after Yadiel Hernandez became the third batter hit by a López pitch in this game – a call that required a replay review to get right – Ehire Adrianza stepped to the plate and produced the sacrifice fly to center that tied the game 2-2 and ended López’s day on a sour note.

When the inning began, López was seeking a no-hitter. When it ended, he wasn’t even in line for the win anymore.

"It's one of those scenarios where you've still got to stick to the game plan there," Bell said. "I was trying to stay inside his cutter as best I could. And I was able to fight it down that left field line there. Thank goodness for that."

Neither was Fedde in line for a win. The Nats right-hander wasn’t nearly as efficient as his counterpart but still got the job done. Fedde gave up two runs – one of them after a rough sequence in the third that included a double, two walks, a wild pitch and an RBI groundout; the other via Luke Williams’ fifth-inning homer – and again saw his pitch count get elevated.

But Fedde finished strong. And when he departed after 106 pitches over six innings, he had himself a quality start while giving his team a chance to win.

Little did anyone realize what was still to come before the end of this wild day.

"It was probably fun baseball to watch," Bell said. "A lot of ups. A couple downs. But that's part of the game. They're definitely a good team over there. We bounced back all game, and they did as well. We'll sleep up tomorrow and come back tomorrow."

Game 82 lineups: Nats vs. Marlins
Several injured pitchers moving closer to return
 

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