"I felt like it was coming out nice and easy," Hill said. "I wasn't stressing at all."
Hill got all the support he'd need from Wily Mo Pena, who notched his eighth career multi-homer game and first of the season.
Pena's first one stunned just about everybody in the ballpark. Facing Florida starter Scott Olsen in the third, Pena ripped a changeup, sending a low laser beam of a line drive to left. It never got much more than 20 feet off the ground. Pena sprinted out of the batter's box, thinking that the ball was destined for the wall. But, as quickly as Pena demonstrated with a snap of his fingers afterward, the ball disappeared over the fence for a two-run homer and a 3-0 Washington lead.
"Unbelievable," Nationals manager Manny Acta said. "It was just a bullet. Only [Pena] can hit a ball like that."
"I'm still surprised that ball went out," Pena said. "I've never hit one like that."
The Marlins got on the board in the fourth with a 443-foot solo homer by Dan Uggla. They added another in the fifth when Felipe Lopez's throwing error allowed Cody Ross to score from second.
But Pena helped the Nationals keep stride by launching a solo shot in the fifth, this one a no-doubter that sailed into the left-center-field seats. The mountainous right-handed-hitting slugger has now gone deep seven times in 21 games with Washington.
"I was ready for the opportunity just to play every day," said Pena, who was a reserve outfielder with the Red Sox before coming to Washington on Aug. 17. "Now I feel comfortable. I see the ball much better. Every pitch they throw me seems much, much, much better."
Washington stretched its lead to 5-2 in the sixth, when Austin Kearns singled in Nook Logan. Lopez tried to score after Logan on the play, but Lopez was thrown out at the plate by Ross.
But the weather would soon change, as would the tenor of the game. Pena and Ronnie Belliard walked to open the seventh, and as Jesus Flores stepped to the plate, the skies unloaded the huge burst of rain that lightning on the horizon had foreshadowed all night.
With sheets of water pounding the field, Flores hit an infield pop-up that disappeared into the swirling sky. Hanley Ramirez put his hands up to signal confusion. Miguel Cabrera looked up in every direction. Dan Uggla sprinted from second base across the diamond. Finally, the ball crashed down near Cabrera, who picked it up and stepped on third base, not realizing there was no force play because the infield fly rule was in effect. But Pena didn't realize that either, so as he jogged past third and into foul territory, Cabrera figured out the situation and tagged him, completing the bizarre double play.
Conditions only got worse, but Hill was still beckoned to the plate from the on-deck circle.
"I was surprised they let me walk in the box," Hill said.
|Since being traded from the Red Sox to the Nationals, Wily Mo Pena has raked more long balls wearing a Washington uniform than during his time in Boston this season.|
Finally, after Harvey Garcia threw two balls to open Hill's at-bat, the tarps were unfurled. Play would be delayed for 40 minutes.
"[Home-plate umpire Tim McClelland] explained to me that it wasn't supposed to last too long, that it was just a brief rain, and if we could play through it, we would be OK," Acta said. "It just stayed a little too long there."
When the game resumed, it appeared the Nationals' momentum might have been washed away along with much of the crowd. Jesus Colome hit Josh Willingham to open the bottom of the seventh, then surrendered a mammoth two-run homer by Mike Jacobs that cut Washington's lead to one. Colome has now been scored upon in three straight appearances.
But Jonathan Albaladejo, Jon Rauch and Chad Cordero retired the final eight Marlins in order to close out the win, clinch the season series for Washington and give the Nationals more separation from the National League East cellar.
"In the long term, I don't think it's a big deal," Hill said of avoiding last place. "But it's kind of a mini-victory for us. It's big to everyone in here. Everyone else will look at it as you still finished in fourth place, but all the projections were that we were supposed to lose 100 games. It's something we can build off for next season."