In many ways, the turn of events in the eighth inning was a microcosm of what's gone wrong all year. The Marlins were close to pulling off an impressive win, only to let it slip away.
"It's not tough," a distraught Miami manager Ozzie Guillen said. "The way we've played all year long, it's a regular, normal game for us. We find a way to lose, no matter what. I guess you've got to get used to it, whether you're a coach or manager. Very, very, weird, funny the way we've been playing."
The frustrating loss prevented Mark Buehrle from collecting his 10th win, which would have extended his streak to 12 straight years of reaching double-digits.
Although Buehrle wasn't overly sharp, giving up four runs in six innings, the veteran still put his team in position to win.
"When you don't pitch too good, it's going to be hard to get it," said Buehrle of his 10th win. "Obviously, I went a little deeper into the game than I had in previous starts. Then I got myself in some jams, made some mistakes. When you face a good team like this, that's what they're supposed to do, make you pay for it. It was a tough one today, but we have to come back tomorrow."
Given an extra chance, Washington stormed back. The inning was shaping up nicely for Dunn, who had one out, and induced a lazy grounder to first base by Adam LaRoche. Dunn covered first to take Carlos Lee's flip, but the lefty didn't see the ball into the glove and dropped it.
"You could put it on that," Dunn said of the error. "But I also had two outs and nobody scored. To give up six runs with two outs, that's me letting the team down. We played good enough to win the game. I blew it, plain and simple."
Muffing a fundamental play, worked on regularly, prompted Guillen to vent an obscenity-laced tirade to the media afterward.
"We practice that [play] from the first day of Spring Training," Guillen said. "The only [thing pitchers do] in baseball is PFP [pitchers' fielding practice]. We do that [stuff] 24 hours, every day. There he goes. That's the baseball game right there. If you give up a home run, that's fine. But we do the same [stuff] every day, day in, day out. I guess that's the reason we practice that."
LaRoche, who had two solo homers in the game off Buehrle, became the inspiration for the Nationals' comeback. Jayson Werth walked, and after Kurt Suzuki struck out, the Nationals pulled within a run on Steve Lombardozzi's RBI single.
Pinch-hitter Tyler Moore tied it with an RBI single to right.
The game-changing moment came on a go-ahead three-run homer to left by Danny Espinosa, who had committed two errors at shortstop. Bryce Harper followed with a home run, and the Marlins went from being four outs away from victory to four runs down.
"They took advantage of every mistake we made, stole a bunch of runs, and it wasn't looking good," LaRoche said. "That was a huge inning."
There was some strategic controversy too in the inning. Closer Steve Cishek was warming up, but Guillen opted to stick with a laboring Dunn to face Lombardozzi and Moore.
Guillen noted he preferred Dunn against those lefties rather than go with Cishek against a lefty pinch-hitter, likely Roger Bernadina in place of Moore.
"If I bring this kid [Cishek] with the game on the line, then I don't have anybody for a tie game in the ninth," Guillen added.
In defeat, Jose Reyes had three hits, a walk, two stolen bases and four runs scored. Reyes has hit safely in 23 games, improving his personal best. And Lee added two hits and two RBIs, giving him a 10-game hitting streak.
The seven runs were the most the Marlins have scored in 18 games, since they beat the Cubs, 9-5, at Wrigley Field on July 17.
Reyes' double in the third inning improved his career-best hitting streak, which is the longest active stretch in the Majors. It's the fourth longest streak in club history. Luis Castillo set the record of 35 in 2002, followed by Emilio Bonifacio's 26 in 2011, and Kevin Millar's 25 in 2002.
Until the eighth inning, the Marlins were enjoying a solid offensive night. Bryan Petersen had three hits, getting a shot leading off because Bonifacio is on the disabled list with a left thumb sprain.
The Marlins managed five runs on seven hits off Jordan Zimmermann.
"If you think about it, that we were going to score that many runs with the lineup we had against Zimmermann, that's a shock," Guillen said. "That's nice to see that. Very nice. It was fun. But I guess that's the kind of year I'm going to have this year. It was fun for seven, eight innings, and then all of a sudden, whoop, there we go again. It was nice to see the guys go out there, battle, have great at-bats and fight for it."