MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In the box score, the Nationals beat the Marlins Thursday night on a two-run home run by Adam LaRoche — a ball that sailed into the right field seats at Sun Life Stadium in the top of the 11th inning to bring home Ryan Zimmerman and give Washington its second win of the 2011 season.
“I guess that’s the only safe place to hit it right now is in the seats, feels like,” LaRoche said.
While LaRoche’s stroke was the decisive moment for the Nationals, the one that broke the 3-3 battle of attrition the teams had been working on since the bottom of the sixth inning — the Nationals sixth game of the young season — was won by their bullpen.
“It’s the same deal as last year,” said starting pitcher John Lannan, who turned the game over to Tyler Clippard with runners on second and third with no outs in the sixth inning. “They just come in and do a great job.”
Clippard, Drew Storen, Todd Coffey and Sean Burnett combined for six straight innings of scoreless relief — almost all of it in absolutely dominating fashion — to avoid the sweep in Florida and head to New York City looking for their first winning streak since Sept 21-24, 2010.
The Nationals had scratched out three runs off of Josh Johnson — who was working on a perfect game through three innings before Jayson Werth sent his first home run in a Nationals uniform bouncing over the right field wall — and had a one-run lead when Clippard entered the game.
“If you need a strikeout, he’s the guy,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman.
While he couldn’t get the strikeout immediately, leaving a ball that he wanted up to Emilio Bonifacio down in the zone and inducing a grounder that scored John Buck, he struck out the next two batters and threw 17 of his 21 pitches for strikes over the course of his two innings of work.
Storen followed suit, as did Coffey and Burnett. From the sixth inning on, the Nationals relievers allowed just two hits and had faced the minimum before Burnett allowed what turned out to be a harmless single in the bottom of the 11th inning.
After an extra-innings loss on Tuesday night, followed by a night where the bullpen allowed three runs that proved to be the difference in the game on Wednesday, Thursday’s win represented the reward from of a frustrating series with the Marlins.
“It was great because we felt like we had a chance to win that game two days ago,” LaRoche said. “We felt like we should have won that game and we didn’t and then coming in today against Josh, our confidence is up but you know you’ve got your work cut out for you. The guy, the last couple of years, has been phenomenal. Lannan gave up a couple and then it was even harder but he bared down and had a great outing and we… scraped out enough runs to get us to extra innings.”
Lannan, who admitted that both of his starts this season have been battles, allowed two early runs but settled in well after that and pitched four straight scoreless innings before allowing the first two batters of the sixth to reach and turning things over to the bullpen.
“We’ve been playing good but it seems like we’ve been doing the one thing that killed us and we were able to stay out of that tonight and grind it out but we’ve had chances,” Werth said. “We could very easily be 4-2, 5-1, 6-0? You never know. We’ve had some opportunities every game. The fact that we got this game, we’re going to New York and win that series and we’re .500 on the road trip, you’d look at it as a good road trip even though it started kind of bad. We’re right there. We’re playing good, we really are.”