Line drive singles. Base hits behind the lead runner. Sacrifice bunts. Suicide squeezes. All of these classic baseball ingredients were blended together last night in a 5-3 Marlins win over the Nationals. Despite giving up eight hits and four walks, Carlos Zambrano yielded only three earned runs, one of which was atoned for when he ignited a 4-run rally in the third inning with a sharp line drive single. Ten pitches later, Carlos Lee drove him across the plate with a 2-RBI double. Shortly thereafter, Hanley Ramirez lit the fish for two runs.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, emerging slugger Justin Ruggiano doubled while pinch hitting for Zambrano, then reached third on a Jose Reyes sacrifice bunt. The sacrifice set up the next play, a suicide squeeze. As Ruggiano broke for home, Emilio Bonifacio laid a sacrifice bunt down the first base line, flushing catcher Jesus Flores from behind the plate to throw Bonifacio out at first.
Wade LeBlanc, Ryan Webb, and Randy Choate handled the top of the seventh, setting up Heath Bell for the eighth. After giving up a leadoff single, Bell retired the next three batters. Mike Dunn got the nod for the close (and his first save) , as Steve Cishek was still on the sidelines recovering from the flu. Dunn retire the first two batters, and allowed Bryce Harper his first hit of the game. With Ryan Zimmerman at the plate and Adam LaRoche on deck, the picture was looking grim. The left-handed Dunn walked Zimmerman, putting runners on first and second with the go-ahead run at the plate. with a 1-2 count, LaRoche watched the game end on a four-seam Dunn fastball right down the pipe.
With the win, the Marlins divide the series and keep pace with the 9-game separation from the best-in-the-National-League Nationals. Next up is a trip to Big Z’s old stomping (literally!) grounds on the north side of Chicago. The 36-52 Cubs will be a welcome respite from the tough schedule we’ve endured recently, but that doesn’t imply a cakewalk. Anibal Sanchez starts the series against Travis Woo, followed by Josh Johnson vs. Jeff Samardzija. The series wraps up with Mark Buehrle facing lefthander Paul Maholm. While the Cubs have been playing well lately, they’re due for a little regression, and the Marlins have shown improvement in their offense.
Prediction: Marlins sweep the series. Ozzie and Big Z catch three days of boos from the crowd. Ruggiano will continue to impress, and Morrison will continue to disappoint.