- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

MIAMI — It began ugly, turned beautiful for a brief moment midway through the evening and then spiraled out of control after that.

The Washington Nationals just as soon would like to forget the details of last night’s 13-8 loss to the Florida Marlins, a wretched game in which two losing teams seemingly did all they could to hand victory to the other.

The Nationals didn’t receive quality pitching from any of the seven pitchers they sent to the mound over the course of eight frustrating innings. The Marlins racked up 21 hits and scored in seven different innings, with only Winston Abreu (one-third of an inning) failing to give up a run among Washington’s pitchers.

So Manny Acta gladly will forget the game and move on to today’s series finale at cavernous Dolphin Stadium.

As the Nationals manager put it after last night’s loss: “God, I’m glad it’s over and nobody got hurt.”

That Washington’s roster emerged healthy was small consolation from a game that did feature one memorable moment: Justin Maxwell, the organization’s young outfield prospect, hit his first career home run, a pinch-hit grand slam.

If nothing else, the 23-year-old former University of Maryland star will be able to list that notable accomplishment (which doubled as his first big league hit) on his resume.

“Pretty cool,” Maxwell said.

Unfortunately, that was the lone positive development for Washington (65-80), which squandered a 7-5 fourth-inning lead amid a flurry of Marlins hits off a battered and bruised bullpen.

Relievers Micah Bowie, Saul Rivera, Chris Schroder, Jonathan Albaladejo and Luis Ayala allowed eight runs on 13 hits and three walks in five combined innings. Schroder (2-2) took the loss because he gave up the go-ahead run in the seventh.

“They have a tremendous lineup, and if you don’t have quality pitches, you can get into nights like we got into today,” Acta said. “We could tell from the beginning it was going to be a long game.”

No, it didn’t take long for the game to turn into an exercise in futility. Both teams’ starting pitchers labored from the beginning, with Washington’s Mike Bacsik failing to make it out of the third inning and Florida’s Chris Seddon unable to make it through the fourth.

Bacsik was particularly bad, serving up five runs on eight hits (including three homers) and one walk in 22/3 innings. Unable to keep his mid-80s fastball down in the zone, the left-hander was roughed up by Hanley Ramirez (solo shot in the first), Mike Jacobs (two-run homer in the third) and Cody Ross (solo homer right after Jacobs).

“Horrible,” Bacsik said of his performance. “I probably would have had a bad game against the Gulf Coast Marlins the way I was throwing the ball tonight.”

Yet Bacsik — who could be headed back to the bullpen again — didn’t figure into the decision thanks to his teammates’ five-run explosion in the fourth. Staked to a 5-2 lead, Seddon gave it all back when he failed to retire the first five batters of the inning.

The fifth Nationals player to hit during the splurge was Maxwell, the talented but green rookie who has been used sporadically since his promotion from Class A Potomac a week ago. His only two previous at-bats in the big leagues: a fly ball to the warning track and a strikeout.

Despite falling into an 0-2 hole, Maxwell turned on a change-up from Seddon and sent the ball flying to left. It landed in the tarped-off section of stands high above the out-of-town scoreboard.

Asked whether he envisioned his first career homer coming with the bases loaded, Maxwell joked that he hadn’t really thought about it because he was still focused on recording his first career hit.

The ball, which will be displayed at his parents’ Olney home, will carry even more significance after the historic blast.

Maxwell is the first Nationals player to homer in his third career at-bat since Brandon Watson did so in Houston on Aug. 9, 2005. The last player in franchise history to connect for a grand slam as his first career homer? Expos pitcher Scott Sanderson, who did it on Sept. 11, 1982, at Wrigley Field, exactly 25 years before Maxwell duplicated the feat.

“Great for the kid,” Acta said. “He’s in the record books now, one of those guys who has his first hit be a grand slam. It’s too bad we couldn’t hold the lead there so he could feel like he contributed to a win.”

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