- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

MIAMI — The stands were barren, with only a few hundred fans watching a game between two teams battling for last place in mid-September. And the game had been dragging on for more than four hours, with neither the Washington Nationals nor the Florida Marlins able to produce one timely hit to send everyone home.

And then it was over. A double to lead off the bottom of the 12th. A groundout to move the runner over to third. And a slow chopper up the middle that couldn”t be hauled in by either middle infielder.

Marlins 5, Nationals 4.

“To have to wait 4½ hours for that to happen, it’s very disappointing,” Washington catcher Brian Schneider said. “You’d rather get beat with a line drive somewhere, rather than a ball that barely makes it out of the infield.”

Todd Linden, one of 41 players to play in the game, was the hero. The Marlins reserve outfielder stuck his bat out on a 1-2 sinker from Saul Rivera and dribbled the game-winning single between shortstop D’Angelo Jimenez and second baseman Ronnie Belliard. Pinch-runner Reggie Abercrombie scored easily from third, and the Nationals trudged off the field with their second straight loss to the Marlins.

“Oh, it was a long game,” said Rivera, the eighth reliever used by Washington manager Manny Acta. “It was like, OK, I got a ground ball. I thought we had him. But it just went to the right spot.”

A taxing day for both teams ended in frustrating fashion for the Nationals, who played under unusual conditions. It’s never easy for any team to get motivated to play a late-season getaway contest in front of a crowd that would have been disappointing for a JV high school football game.

Attendance at Dolphin Stadium was officially announced as 10,121, but only a fraction of that number actually showed up. A couple of reporters in the press box did a head count as the afternoon’s first pitch was being delivered and came up with 375 fans.

“It looked like an extended spring game,” Acta said.

The crowd was so sparse, every word uttered could be heard throughout the stadium. One fan seated behind the plate got on umpire Paul Schrieber’s case and wound up getting ejected from the facility.

“He was chirping to everybody,” Schneider said. “There’s just no need for it. No matter what people were saying, you could hear everything that was going on.”

Thrust into that unusual setting, Joel Hanrahan tried to pitch an effective game. The right-hander, though, failed miserably, lasting only 31/3 innings. Unable to command his fastball, Hanrahan gave up six hits, walked six and threw 104 pitches to 21 batters, 12 of which reached base.

“It was obviously a battle,” said the rookie hurler, who has now put 78 men on base in 412/3 innings. “It was a very disappointing effort. I’m just working on things and still need to get there. Today wasn’t a very good sign of what I’ve been working on.”

Hanrahan’s teammates bailed him out, though, first by tying the game on back-to-back homers by Ryan Church and Wily Mo Pena, then by getting a great effort from their bullpen.

Eight Washington relievers combined to allow two runs on six hits in 81/3 innings, shutting Florida out from the seventh through the 11th.

But the Nationals couldn’t push one more run across against an equally adept Marlins bullpen, managing just four singles over the game’s final seven innings. That set the stage for Linden to produce the game-winner with two outs in the 12th.

The Nationals went 2-4 on their road trip. They came to South Florida with a chance to lock up fourth place in the NL East but lost two of three to the Marlins, reducing their lead in the standings to two games.

“We never underestimated the games against the Marlins,” Acta said. “Because they know and we know we’re playing for something. They don’t want to finish last. We don’t want to finish last. It’s not a secret to anybody. We are motivated to play against them. Just sometimes down here, you get some of those ugly games.”

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