MIAMI -- Having established they can keep the pressure on the first-place Washington Nationals over three games, the question now is can the Marlins maintain it over the final two months.
In defeat Wednesday, the Marlins nearly pulled off their second ninth-inning rally of the series. Including a Giancarlo Stanton solo homer, the two-run ninth off closer du jour Drew Storen left the Marlins short in a 4-3 loss at Marlins Park.
Adeiny Hechavarria, who chipped in an RBI double, represented the tying run with two outs for pinch-hitters Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Reed Johnson. Saltalamacchia walked and Storen got Johnson on a game-ending fielder's choice.
The Marlins (53-54) failed to climb above the .500 mark for the first time since June 20, but they can take solace in going 8-2 over a stretch that saw them claim a three-game set from the Nationals and four-game set from the second-place Braves.
"I was happy to see us come back and put some pressure on them and make them throw more pitches," manager Mike Redmond said. "I really envisioned us tying that game up or somebody getting another big hit. We kept the pressure on them and stayed in the game."
Most of the credit for that goes to Brad Hand. He saw his two-game winning streak come to an end despite allowing a run on three hits through the first seven. He came back out for the eighth and gave up a double to the pinch-hitting Scott Hairston, who advanced to third on a Denard Span bunt single. Umpires reviewed the safe call at first, but replays were inconclusive and the call stood.
"Fast runner," Hand said. "I saw 1/8the replay3/8 on the scoreboard. It looked close. I knew it was going to be hard for them to overturn it after they called him safe."
A sac fly, a walk and a hit later -- all off A.J. Ramos -- and the Nationals were on their way to a decisive three-run inning. The Nationals left town having snapped the Marlins' six-game winning streak and increased their lead over the Marlins in the National League East to six games.
"If we get the out on the bunt, that possibly could have changed that whole outcome of that inning," said Redmond, adding that it looked to him replays showed Span was out. "Not getting the out on the bunt put our backs against the wall. We still ended up making some pitches, but couldn't get through it with just the one run."
Nationals' pitchers had gone seven games without allowing a homer before Jordany Valdespin drove a Tanner Roark full-count offering into the upper tank in right to make it a 1-1 game. Starting with Saturday's ninth-inning homer at Houston, four of Valdespin's last five hits have gone for extra bases.
Since the Marlins promoted him from Triple-A New Orleans, Valdespin has hit safely in eight of nine games started. He is hitting .265 and slugging .559 through 34 at-bats.
Both Roark and Hand walked the first batter they faced Wednesday, but only the Nationals got a run out of it. Hand had Span picked off, throwing over as Span bolted for second. Span still swiped the bag and scored on Rendon's RBI double, one of three hits in 11 Nationals' at-bats with runners in scoring position.
"That was probably a run that never should have happened," Redmond said. "He did his job. He gave us a chance. We just couldn't get anything going offensively until the end...We put a lot of pressure on them in this series," Redmond said. "Had we maybe gotten things going a little bit earlier in the game that outcome would have been different. Overall it was a great series, winning two out of three at a time we needed to."
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