THE RESULT: Ronnie Belliard delivered a pinch-hit two-run double, and Adam Dunn capped the six-run inning with a two-run, opposite field homer that gave the Washington Nationals a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Florida Marlins Tuesday night at Nationals Park.
Washington has won three in a row and seven of its last 11 games.
The Nats got four straight hits to start the eighth inning off, concluding with Belliard's big hit, which chased Marlins' starter Josh Johnson. Johnson, the big right-hander, had been dominant until that point, having retired 20 consecutive Nationals batters until the bottom of the eighth.
But Willie Harris, Alberto Gonzalez and Wil Nieves all scratched singles off Johnson, and Belliard lined one into the left field gap, scoring Harris and Gonzalez. Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez summoned lefty Reynel Pinto to face Nyjer Morgan, and Morgan bounced out to second, plating Nieves and pushing Belliard to third.
Kiko Calero then came in to pitch to Cristian Gizman, but the move did not pay off, as Guzman singled to right field to drive in Belliard. Calero (L, 2-1, 2.08) did coax Josh Willingham into popping up, giving the Marlins hope the could get out of the inning tied.
Dunn made sure that would not be the case. Facing left-hander Dan Meyer—who entered the game with a 2.21 ERA—Dunn took three straight balls, and for a brief moment it looked like Meyer was simply working around Dunn. But his fourth offering was right down Broadway, and he flat fooled Dunn with a breaking pitch for strike two.
But Dunn made solid contact on the sixth pitch of the affair, lofting a long fly ball that settled into about the sixth row of the left field grandstand, bringing those remaining from the 19,828 that stuck around out of their seats.
Ron Villone (4-5, 3.82) got the win in relief and Mike MacDougal came on in the ninth for his ninth save.
Washington starter J.D. Martin had a tough go of it in the beginning. Working in and out of trouble the entirety of his four and one-third innings, he gave up only three earned runs, but had base runners everywhere, giving up six hits and walking four. He struck out two and surrendered two home runs, to Cody Ross and his opposite number, pitcher Johnson.
Johnson was flat out awesome for the first seven innings. His final line was marred by the eighth inning breakdown: 7 IP, 4 ER, 6 hits, 0 walks, 9 Ks. All of the runs and four of the hits came in the deciding inning.
THE TAKEAWAY: The Nats looked like a little league team all night against Johnson. Morgan struck out twice. Dunn K'd three times. Johnson was masterful. But a couple of flares to start the eighth and you could see a difference in Johnson's body language; it was like all the life came out of him.
And give credit to Ronnie Belliard. Reduced this season to pinch-hitter and defensive replacement, he smelled blood in the water and put a very confident swing on the 2-2 pitch, driving the ball to the ball in the left field power alley, one-hopping the fence in front of the Marlins bullpen.
It was the first time the Nats have defeated the Marlins this season, and perhaps a big confidence boost to the entire team.
THE GOOD: Adam Dunn. He only had one hit, but that one was a biggie. It was his 28th home run and 79th and 80th RBIs of the season.
THE BAD: Nyjer Morgan. He was completely over-matched by Johnson, going 0-for-4 and striking out twice.
THE UGLY: J.D. Martin. He really struggled with his command, and frankly, was lucky to get out of this outing giving up just three earned runs. He was the beneficiary of a double play and, to his credit, he pitched out of a couple jams. But he labored all night.
NEXT GAME: Wednesday at 7:05 pm for game two of the three-gamer. John Lannan (7-8, 3.41) takes on Rick VanDenHurk (1-0, 2.65).
NOTES: Nick Johnson received a small, but warm, ovation from a late-arriving crowd for his first at bat. He went 2-for-4 with a walk, run and RBI in his first appearance as a visitor at Nationals Park.
Austin Kearns was placed on the DL Wednesday with a right thumb injury. Kearns is expected to see a thumb specialist in Baltimore. The team recalled 11-year minor league veteran Jorge Padilla from Triple-A Syracuse to take Kearns' place on the roster.