MIAMI -- After playing each other 13 times during the first seven weeks of the season, the Marlins and Nationals were meeting for the first time since May. Washington is now closing in on the National League East crown, while Miami's recent struggles have the club hanging on to the fringes of the NL Wild Card race.
The Marlins used an early mammoth home run from Giancarlo Stanton and were aided by two Nationals miscues to score twice in the sixth inning and come away with a 4-3 victory Monday night at Marlins Park. Trea Turner misplayed a ball hit by Derek Dietrich into a run-scoring double. Then the next batter, Ichiro Suzuki, hit a grounder toward second baseman Wilmer Difo, whose errant throw home was not in time before the go-ahead run scored.
With 12 games remaining, the Marlins moved within four of the Giants and Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.
"For us, the Nationals are obviously the team in first place, but they're not really the team that we're chasing," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "They ran away from us, but we are, in a sense, in the other part of it. Again, life support for us is win every day. If we can do that, and really force everyone else to have to win games ..."
The game marked the return of Wei-Yin Chen to the Marlins' rotation. The lefty, on the disabled list with a left elbow sprain, hadn't pitched since July 20, and Miami felt if he went five innings, it would be a bonus. He lasted 4 1/3, exiting after Espinosa's three-run homer.
"I felt pretty good overall, but in the fifth inning, I couldn't get outs," Chen said through his interpreter. "But overall, I was feeling pretty good."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Ichiro's RBI ground ball: Suzuki didn't need a big hit to give the Marlins a big boost. Simply making contact turned out to be enough in the sixth inning, when the Marlins claimed a 4-3 lead on Ichiro's grounder to second that plated Justin Bour, who had bunted against the shift for a single earlier in the inning.
"Ich does a good job, just putting the ball in play," Mattingly said. "That's really what we needed at that point."
A blast and a bunt: Espinosa had been struggling before his three-run homer, with one hit in his last 20 at-bats during his last seven games. It was Espinosa's 22nd home run of the season, setting a career high. He even laid down a sacrifice bunt in the seventh inning, giving the Nationals a chance to take the lead with runners at second and third with one out, but pinch-hitters Stephen Drew and Clint Robinson struck out against Marlins right-hander Fernando Rodney.
Home run swing returns for Stanton: It'd been a while since Stanton savored the sweet sound of a home run -- and make no mistake, the sound off the bat of his drive in the second inning was deafening. Stanton got all of starter A.J. Cole's slider, and crushed a solo home run beyond the Budweiser Bar area in left-center. According to Statcast™, the drive traveled a projected 448 feet from home plate, with an exit velocity of 115 mph.
The homer gave Miami the early lead, and it was Stanton's 27th career homer against the Nationals, matching his high against an opponent. He also has 27 against the Mets. The shot was his first since Aug. 13, the day he suffered a Grade 3 left groin strain and was out until Sept. 6.
In Stanton's final plate appearance, he walked in the sixth and was replaced by pinch-runner, Yefri Perez, who ended up scoring the tying run.
"[Stanton] ends up walking, and that run ends up scoring also," Mattingly said. "Again, it's not really the way you draw it up as far as this time of the year. But we're lucky to have a number of players and use a lot of guys, so we can get away with it." More >
Without your best stuff: In his latest outing while filling in for the injured Stephen Strasburg, Cole lasted only four innings and allowed two runs -- including Christian Yelich's RBI ground-rule double -- before he was pulled to save him from facing the Marlins' hitters a third time through the order. Cole said he felt like he did not have his best stuff from the start of the outing and battled to make it as long as he did.
"When I went out there and realized all my stuff really wasn't working the way I wanted it to, I just tried to concentrate on keeping the ball down and really actually locating the ball," Cole said.
"Just don't quit. These guys aren't going to quit. We could have quit after the three-run homer. We kept putting out there good at-bats and kept going hard. I think that's what we're going to keep doing." -- Gordon
WHAT'S NEXT Nationals: With the Nats inching closer to wrapping up the NL East soon, right-hander Tanner Roark (15-8, 2.75 ERA) will make his fifth start against the Marlins this season, Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. In his last outing against Miami on May 20, Roark made a slight adjustment that helped him best the Marlins for 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts.
Marlins:Jose Fernandez (15-8, 2.99) will be making his 29th start, and there are questions as to whether it will be his final start of the year. With Fernandez at 174 1/3 innings, the Marlins are measuring how much more to use their ace, especially if they are officially eliminated from Wild Card contention.