Momentum is a difficult force to sustain in baseball.
With eight wins in nine games, and fortified by a rare comeback from a six-run deficit the night before, the Marlins were hoping to ride All-Star right-hander Henderson Alvarez to a series-clinching victory Tuesday against the Nationals at Marlins Park.
Alvarez responded like an ace should to keep the Marlins on the crest by delivering seven scoreless innings. Their other All-Star provided the offensive punch with two RBI hits in a 3-0 victory that pushed the winning streak to six and lifted Miami back to .500 (53-53) for the first time since June 25.
The curious aspect of the recent surge is it has occurred despite Giancarlo Stanton being mired in a month-long funk. Stanton came into Tuesday hitting .205 for July.
The sleeping giant awoke at an opportune time, breaking a scoreless deadlock with a run-scoring double in the sixth off Stephen Strasburg.
Stanton followed Jordany Valdespin's leadoff single by ripping a hanging curveball into the left-field corner. He stunted a potential big inning, though, by getting thrown out at third when the throw to the plate was cut off.
But Stanton came through again with a run-scoring single over shortstop Ian Desmond's glove in the eighth. Christian Yelich also had an RBI double as the Marlins provided some late-inning cushion off the Nationals' bullpen.
Relievers Bryan Morris, Mike Dunn and Steve Cishek (27th save) completed the shutout. Dunn got dangerous Bryce Harper to pop out with two men on in the eighth. Cishek struck out Anthony Rendon with the bases loaded to end it.
Alvarez (8-5) overcame early wildness to complete seven scoreless innings on 102 pitches (64 strikes).
He worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second, but needed 33 pitches and a diving grab of a liner by third baseman Casey McGehee to do so.
After walking Desmond to load the bases, manager Mike Redmond, the pitching coach and assistant trainer came out to make sure Alvarez was OK.
With three walks in the first two innings, the usually steady Alvarez matched the total for his previous three starts combined. He threw only 47 percent of 45 pitches for strikes in those two frames.
Alvarez came out much sharper for a 1-2-3 third, throwing 10 of 14 pitches for strikes, and clocking 95 mph consistently with his fastball.
Following the walk that brought concern for his health, Alvarez retired seven in a row before serving a single to Harper.
He gave up a leadoff double to Rendon in the sixth. But left runners on the corners by getting Desmond on a grounder to second.
Strasburg (7-9) held the Marlins to four hits in seven innings. They advanced a runner to second base in four of the first five innings, but left him there each time.
Valdespin's opposite-field double in the first was the only Marlins hit until Alvarez singled sharply to left with two outs in the fifth.
Home plate umpire D.J. Reyburn took an Alvarez fastball off the right wrist in the seventh inning. He remained in the game after being attended to by the Marlins' trainer. He had a rough night, also taking a foul off a leg in the ninth.
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