SAN DIEGO — Six pitches separated Jason Marquis from disaster Friday night.
In the span of six pitches during the sixth inning, Marquis ensured three things: that the no-hitter he took into the fourth against the San Diego Padres wouldn’t simply be an afterthought in another Nationals loss, that the two runs of support Michael Morse provided him with via a second-inning homer would be enough and, finally, that the Washington Nationals would win — which they did, 2-1.
That last part, after all, had been the trickiest. For a Nationals team that had seen 12 of their past 18 games decided by two runs or less and had lost nine of those 12, the six pitches Marquis threw after getting into a 2-0 count with the bases loaded to Padres rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo defined his night.
“Those are, we call them down there in the bullpen ‘man pitches’ right there,” said Nationals closer Drew Storen, who picked up his 13th save of the season three innings later. “You’ve got to man up.”
“I thought I made a couple good pitches,” Marquis admitted later, “but those are the breaks that happen.”
Marquis used his changeup just seven times all night but three of them were issued in the pivotal at-bat against the Padres‘ first baseman. On his seventh, he struck out Rizzo swinging and inched closer to escaping a monumental jam.
“I’m pitching my game,” Marquis explained later. “I’m attacking. I’m making him chase. I present it as a strike and I’m pretty sure a young guy in that situation wants to be real aggressive. I wanted to make a pitcher’s pitch and if I walked him I would have lived to see the next hitter.
“I think the game will dictate how you attack hitters. Whether it’s how much is your ball moving that day or the types of swings hitters take off you. I felt like that was the right pitch at that current moment. I felt comfortable throwing it even though I hadn’t thrown many up to that point.”
Two pitches later, the fifth and sixth ones that saved Marquis and the Nationals Friday night, Jorge Cantu grounded out to third base ending the scoring threat.
As sharp as Marquis was while facing the minimum through the first four innings, his ability to escape the sixth and turn a lead over to Tyler Clippard, and then Storen, was most important. It also helped the Nationals seal their fourth victory on an 11-game West Coast swing and ensure the possibility of a .500 or better record on the trip.
“He was outstanding,” said Nationals manager Jim Riggleman. “He was so sharp and then got really tested in the sixth inning. That was tough. There was base runners all over the place and a lot of pitches. A very stressful inning. To come out of that with one run? That’s good, veteran pitching.”
It was also a performance the Nationals desperately needed out of their bullpen. While almost everyone around them have struggled, Clippard and Storen have proven to be almost infallible. The two combined to face 11 batters. Three reached base and one, Chris Denorfia in the eighth, even made it to second, but unlike the past few games where the bullpen has struggled, both escaped unscathed.
Because of this, Morse’s home run into the upper half of the second deck in left field at Petco Park — his fourth of the road trip — off Matt Latos in the second inning, was enough.
“To that part of the park, when Mike gets a hold of something like that, it’s going to be a home run,” Riggleman said.