Similar script plays out, but Nats fall short

August 25th, 2020

WASHINGTON -- May 24, 2019: The Nationals face Marlins starter Pablo López in an evening matchup at Nationals Park. Miami takes an early lead, going up 8-5 after five innings, before Washington scores four runs in the eighth. The Nats stage a comeback from a 19-31 start that begins a historic championship-winning turnaround.

Aug. 24, 2020: The Nationals face Marlins starter Pablo López in an evening matchup at Nationals Park. Miami takes an early lead, going up 7-0 after four innings, before Washington scores three runs in the eighth. The Nats attempt to stage a comeback from an 11-14 start in a 60-game season in their quest to defend their World Series championship.

In a wild four-hour, two-minute battle on Monday night, the Nationals fell short of the Marlins, 11-8. The teams combined for 28 hits and plenty of opportunities to inflate the score with 21 runners left on base.

“I always believe in these guys,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “I tell them, 'We play for all 27 outs. If you can't do that, you can't play here.' They understand that. They don't quit. They play hard until the end, as you could see tonight.”

The Nationals found themselves in an early hole when starter 's night ended after 3 2/3 frames. He allowed six runs on six hits, walked three and struck out three over 73 pitches (43 strikes). Washington’s offense was limited while Miami plated seven runs through four.

“They’re pesky hitters,” Voth said. “I wasn’t able to finish them. I was kind of wild with some of my pitches, but I just wasn’t able to get efficient outs.”

The Nats rallied after Voth’s early exit to score three runs in the fifth, two in the seventh and three in the eighth on 's homer. Trailing by three heading into the ninth, they had a chance to pull off another memorable victory, this time against former Washington reliever Brandon Kintzler.

drew a leadoff walk ahead of Luis García, who nearly grounded into a double play but reached on a fielding error by first baseman Jesús Aguilar. advanced García to third on a groundout to put a runner on the corner for . The roller coaster game ended on a quiet note when he struck out swinging.

“They are world champions for a reason,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “They just keep playing, and keep coming, and grinding out at-bats. ... You don't really feel comfortable here at all.”

All but two players, Cabrera and , in the Nationals' order recorded a hit on the evening. Eaton (2-for-5) tied a career high with four RBIs. matched his season high of four hits.

“We just keep fighting,” Soto said. “It’s not bad at all because we see the offense right there. We did a really good job. ... Everybody’s ready, everybody’s feeling good at the plate. How we fight back, I think we’re going to get it.”

The game saw 13 pitchers in action (in the 2019 battle, it was 14). For the Nationals, Voth, , , , and took the mound. Martinez said he continued to match up his pitchers against the Marlins’ arms throughout the game, in spite of the deficit, to maintain striking distance.

“We try to keep it close, because we always feel like we can come back and win games late,” Martinez said.

The Nationals have emphasized since Spring Training they aren’t looking for another underdog victory story this year. The goal is to execute winning baseball now so they don’t have to play catch-up in a shortened season with far less margin for error. The Nats dropped to 11-15 and have three games coming up with the National League East-rival Phillies (10-14) beginning on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t seem like things are out of hand -- at all,” Gomes said. “I think there’s maybe a couple teams that are doing well. Everybody else is just kind of grinding away. I think we’re a couple good series from being right in the thick of things. We just can’t let things get too far ahead of us. Like Davey said, we’ve got to fight to go 1-0 each day.”