- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MIAMI | Nobody owns the Washington Nationals on a team level like the Florida Marlins. And nobody owns them on an individual level like Hanley Ramirez.

The Nationals have no answer for either, and so they were pretty much doomed to somehow lose Tuesday night’s game at Land Shark Stadium, one way or the other.

Nevermind that they held a four-run lead in the sixth inning. The deadly combination of Ramirez, the majors’ worst bullpen, the majors’ worst defense and the Marlins’ two-year-long domination of the Nationals ensured the outcome.

Throw in a massive rain storm in the bottom of the seventh, and the end result was a 7-5 loss to Florida (called in the seventh) that was even more demoralizing than it sounded.

A day that began with the first major trade of the Mike Rizzo era — Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan were shipped to Pittsburgh for Nyjer Morgan and Sean Burnett — ended with a very familiar outcome.

Washington’s pitching staff (with an assist from a defense that committed four errors) allowed six runs in 1 2/3 innings to squander a 5-1 lead, and Florida walked away with its ninth straight win over its NL East rivals, its 23rd in 26 head-to-head meetings since last season.

Ramirez, the biggest Nationals killer on a roster full of them, came through once again in the clutch. The dynamic shortstop blasted a two-run homer off rookie starter Craig Stammen in the sixth, then added a two-run single in the seventh off reliever Joe Beimel that gave the Marlins the lead for good.

Jorge Cantu drove in an insurance run, knocking Beimel (0-4) out of the game and bringing Jesus Colome out of the bullpen. But before Colome could complete his first at-bat, the skies opened and everyone scurried for cover. After a 90-minute delay, crew chief Tim Welke ruled the game official and over, the Marlins having successfully taken the lead in the bottom half of an inning after the regulation five were played.

The late implosion spoiled what was briefly shaping up to be a nice ballgame for the Nationals and Stammen. At the end of a whirlwind week — he was in danger of going back to the minors, then went to the bullpen for a day, only to find out he was staying in the rotation all along — the rookie right-hander justified the Nationals’ final decision with another impressive effort before faltering late.

Stammen was superb for five innings, allowing only one unearned run (the result of a two errors on one play by Zimmerman, who was charged with a third later in the game) on three hits without issuing a walk.

The pitcher even produced at the plate, drawing a two-out walk in his first appearance and then roping a bases-loaded single to center in the fourth for the first two RBI of his career.

That clutch hit put the Nationals up 3-1, and when Adam Dunn added a towering, two-run homer in the fifth — the 298th of his career — Stammen suddenly had a comfortable, four-run lead at his disposal.

But these still are the Marlins, who for two years now have dominated Washington like no one else. So a comeback seemed inevitable, and sure enough it came in the sixth at Stammen’s expense.

A pair of singles put runners on the corners, and when Stammen bounced a pitch through catcher Wil Nieves’ legs, Florida had recouped one run. Moments later, Ramirez added to his ever-growing collection of bit hits against the Nationals pitching staff. A two-run blast to right cut the lead to 5-4 and ended Stammen’s night. A two-run single the following inning gave the Marlins the lead for good.

In 60 career games against Washington, Ramirez is now batting .340 with 16 homers and 42 RBI.

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