Nats slam Marlins late

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The Washington Nationals finally clinched their first series victory of the season early yesterday morning. What they will remember most is the bizarre way it unfolded.

Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman belted a ninth-inning grand slam off Florida reliever Jorge Julio, sending the Nationals to a 7-3 victory in a game that was twice delayed by rain and didn’t end until 1:42 a.m. yesterday.

It also marked the first time Washington scored six runs in consecutive games all season.

“We’re kind of turning a corner,” said Zimmerman, who hit only his second home run (both grand slams against the Marlins) this year and was mobbed by teammates as he crossed the plate. “We’re starting to get big hits, and we’re starting to get a little more aggressive, and it’s big for us.”

The Nationals appeared headed for their ninth loss in 10 games when the rain — which earlier created a delay of nearly three hours — grew heavier. When the teams returned 47 minutes later, catcher Brian Schneider fought out of an 0-2 hole to work a walk against Taylor Tankersley, who was nursing a 3-2 lead.

Pinch-hitter Dmitri Young, who is battling a sore left Achilles tendon and made his first appearance since Monday, singled, and pinch-hitter Jesus Flores followed with another hit. Felipe Lopez then singled to tie it.

Two batters later, Julio entered with two outs and threw his first pitch high and in to Zimmerman. With the count in his favor, Zimmerman figured he would see a fastball and hit it over the left-center field fence to set off a frenzy among the dozens of fans still remaining.

“We’re playing a lot better right now,” manager Manny Acta said. “Everybody knows we haven’t had a lot of blowout games, so I think the game yesterday and the game today gives us a little bit of hope about our hitting.”

The atmosphere, such as it was, grew more entertaining as the night progressed even as the crowd dwindled. About 1,000 fans remained after a 2-hour, 51-minute delay in the fourth inning, and that group was winnowed to perhaps 100 by the time the second stoppage was completed.

The remnants of an announced crowd of 19,278 contrived their own amusements despite the presence of a persistent shower. Marlins star Miguel Cabrera, who entered the night hitting .444 (8-for-18) with three home runs this season against the Nationals, was serenaded with chants of “overrated” before striking out and flying out in his last two plate appearances.

The ninth-inning theatrics gave the fans even greater reason for glee.

“It reminded me of the game we had last year against Philly [on Sept. 28] when at the end of the game there was only a couple of people left,” Schneider said. “Fans stuck around, and they got a good show.”

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