Espinosa, Nats atone for errors, rally in big eighth

Espinosa, Nats atone for errors, rally in big eighth

Espinosa, Nats atone for errors, rally in big eighth
WASHINGTON -- After seven innings of lackluster baseball from the Nationals, Tyler Moore had just tied the game with a pinch-hit single in the eighth. He stood at first base and watched a slumping Danny Espinosa stride to the plate, work a 2-2 count and unload on an 85-mph slider from Marlins left-hander Mike Dunn.

"I knew that was going," Moore said of the go-ahead three-run homer.

It was going deep to left field, just over the Marlins' bullpen. It was going to send the Saturday night crowd of 33,449 at Nationals Park into an absolute frenzy. And it was going to push Washington to a 10-7 victory that seemed completely unlikely the inning before.

Jordan Zimmermann gave up five runs, four of them earned, while failing to pitch at least six innings for the first time all season. The defense behind him was shaky at best, committing three errors and botching several other plays as the Marlins built up a 6-4 lead.

"Zim didn't pitch very well, and we didn't play very well. But we persevered," Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. "That's the makeup of this ballclub. We gave them one back, and it was fun. Really fun."

Espinosa played the hero with the tie-breaking blast, getting a curtain call -- with a little push out of the dugout by Jayson Werth. He had been mired in a slump at the plate, and he committed two errors at shortstop earlier in the game.

"It's a great feeling," Espinosa said. "I've had a lot of situations this year where I think I haven't done so well. To be able to come through for the team like that felt really good."

But he was certainly not alone. Steve Lombardozzi drove in the first of Washington's six runs in the eighth. Moore hit the game-tying, pinch-hit single. Adam LaRoche had already hit two homers of his own, giving him four in the past three days, and 23 on the season. Bryce Harper broke out of a slump of his own, following up Espinosa's bomb by crushing a solo shot to the second deck in right field and further igniting an already raucous crowd.

"That really gets me going. It really gets me in that locked-in mode," Harper said. "It felt good. I've just got to build off that now."

The inning started off innocuously enough. Michael Morse grounded out to second base, and LaRoche grounded a ball to Marlins first baseman Carlos Lee, who made a routine toss to reliever Mike Dunn covering first. But Dunn dropped the ball and LaRoche reached.

"Nine out of 10 times or 10 out of 10 times, he's going to make that play. Unfortunately, he didn't," Marlins starter Mark Buehrle said of Dunn's missed grab. "That pretty much cost us the game."

Dunn then walked Jayson Werth before striking out Kurt Suzuki. Up came Lombardozzi to start the two-out rally. The error let the Nationals climb back in and take the game away. By doing so, they built up their National League East lead to three games, as the Braves lost to the Astros. And don't think that went unnoticed by many players in the Washington clubhouse.

"I think we all look at it. It's a tight race," Harper said. "The Braves are playing well, we're playing well. We win, they win. It's going to be tough to keep this going. But I think with our pitching, our hitting and the things that we can do, if we can come up in big situations and come through, I think we'll keep this all going. We're a fun team, and we love to win."

"We've got to try to keep our lead, definitely," Espinosa added. "We don't want to give it up, or say, 'Hey, we've got two months left to play,' because any time someone gets momentum in this division, this division will take it over by itself."

Zimmermann, meanwhile, struggled with his control after an extra day of rest. He took a few days off to rest his right shoulder -- which felt fine during and after the game -- but lasted only five innings Saturday. Johnson said he might have been too strong because of the extra rest, if anything, but the poor defense behind him pushed up his pitch count, as well.

"I didn't have the best control," Zimmermann said. "I just didn't have the feel or command."

But the Nationals took him off the hook in the eighth inning, pulling themselves back into the game the way they have all season.

"To turn it around like that just says something about this club," LaRoche said. "Not that we should be surprised. We've been doing that all year. ... We just have a knack for doing it."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.