"Winning five in a row -- it feels good."-- Ronnie Belliard, August 6, 2009.
THE RESULTS: Down 6-0 to the Florida Marlins after two innings, the Washington Nationals kept chipping away until they could deliver a knockout punch — a four run eighth inning — and beat the Fish 12-8, taking a three-game series sweep from the wild-card contenders.
The loss prompted a 15-minute closed door meeting by Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez. Getting swept by the team with the worst record in baseball will do that to you.
The Nats have won five in a row, nine of 13 and are 11-11 under "interim" manager Jim Riggleman since the All-Star break.
Red-hot Ryan Zimmerman was again the story Thursday. He went 4-for-4 with a homer, triple, walk, three RBI and three runs scored. He was just a double from hitting for the cycle.
Since reaching his season low in batting average of .280 on July 23, the All-Star third baseman is on the rampage. In 60 plate appearances, Zimmerman is hitting .449/.533/1.020 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs. He's homered in eight of 13 games.
Elijah Dukes snapped out of the funk that has plagued him since his recall as well. He went 3-for-4 with a solo home run and four RBI.
Washington got down quickly as starter Craig Stammen was very hittable for his third straight start. He lasted only one and two-thirds innings, giving up six runs—five earned—on six hits and one walk.
Reliever Logan Kensing followed and his first offering was a wild pitch that plated a run. He was not much more effective than Stammen, giving up two earned on three hits in three and one-third innings.
After the pair of runs the Marlins got in the fifth—to take an 8-3 lead—they put their bats away and watched the Nats continue to hammer Marlins pitchers.
The Nats got three in the fourth, courtesy of Dukes' RBI-single and Alberto Gonzalez' two-out, two-run double on a catchable ball that left fielder Chris Coghlan took a circuitous route to before trying to catch with the back of his glove turned to the ball.
Washington scored four more in the fourth inning off Marlins starter Chris Volstad (4.1 IP, seven runs, four earned, on nine hits and two walks). Zim hit his two-run shot, Dukes had a sacrifice, and Josh Bard's single brought the Nats within one.
They got that one in the bottom of the seventh, when Dukes pulled a fastball into the left field bleachers for his seventh home run of the season, his first since his Aug. 1 recall.
The eighth inning brought more fireworks, four runs in all, against former Nationals reliever Luis Ayala (L, 1-4, 4.99 ERA), making a winner out of Jorge Sosa (W, 1-0, 1.69 ERA), who went one and two-thirds scoreless. Ron Villone, Jason Bergmann, Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett all did their jobs, getting through the sixth, seventh and eighth unscathed.
THE TAKEAWAY: How 'bout them comeback Nats? Thursday's six-run deficit was the biggest come-from-behind win for this franchise since Jun 17, 2005 against the New York Yankees, one of the infamous Father's Day weekend wins.
When this offense is on, it's a treat to watch and no lead is safe. The team that was in the top third of the N.L. in every category in April/May has shown up again the last two weeks, and is making Riggleman's job a lot easier.
THE GOOD: Z-Man. I was pretty hard on him a couple weeks ago, and he's done nothing but pound the living hell out of the ball since.
THE BAD: Craig Stammen. Flat clobbered again. Stammen's fastball is pretty straight when it isn't sinking, and his last three starts he's gotten no action on the ball whatsoever.
He or Garrett Mock better quickly rediscover what it was that got them up here before Jordan Zimmermann returns and sends one of them back down to whence they came.
THE UGLY: Riggleman would be better off letting his offense do the job for him, instead of calling for the out-making hit-and-runs. Another one was botched yesterday, with Josh Bard, of all people, thrown out on a steal attempt when Alberto Gonzalez failed to even swing on the play.
NEXT GAME: Washington looks for a six-pack of wins tonight against the Justin Upton-less Arizona Diamondbacks. Callin Balester (1-1, 3.68 ERA) takes on Jon Garland (6-10, 4.26 ERA) at 7:05 p.m. from Nationals Park.
NOTES: Outfielder Edgardo Baez and shortstop Ofilio Castro of the Washington Nationals Double-A team at Harrisburg have been suspended for 50 games each under baseball's minor league drug program after testing positive for an amphetamine.
The 24-year-old Baez is hitting .254 with nine homers and 28 RBI. Castro, who turns 26 on Aug. 18, is batting .296 with four homers and 36 RBI.