- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 11, 2011

CHICAGO — Washington knows all about Carlos Marmol. Wednesday night, after he struck out the side in the ninth to seal a Chicago Cubs victory, Nationals right fielder Jayson Werth basically shrugged at Marmol’s effectiveness.

“Seems like,” Werth said, “It just depends who shows up that night.”

Thursday at Wrigley Field, the Nationals got wildly unpredictable Marmol and wildly effective Marmol. The latter showed up just in time to hand the Nationals a 4-3 loss.

Washington also lost the services of first baseman Michael Morse, who left during the seventh inning after being struck on the elbow with a pitch. He was diagnosed with a contusion and is listed as day-to-day, according to a Nationals’ spokesman.

They got the Marmol who loaded the bases in the ninth with a two-run lead and no outs. Then, he flipped the switch. Ian Desmond took two straight balls and swung at the 2-0 pitch. It was the one pitch, perhaps, that Marmols entire near-implosion hinged on.

“I’m assuming he’s going to throw a fastball,” Desmond said, with manager Davey Johnson declining to give his second-year shortstop the take sign. “At that point, he throws a slider.

“You think he’s going to do something different and then he does the same thing. It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around it. … You know, he tricked me.”

The days events could be replayed in the tense moments between pitches. There was Jordan Zimmermann, dominant for six innings before faltering in the seventh in one of his final starts of the season.

“I felt great,” said Zimmermann, who struck out seven. “Fastball command was there. I had a good curveball and a good slider today.”

There was Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez turning to look at home plate umpire Alan Porter after swinging violently through a 95 mph fastball for Strike 3, perhaps praying for him to call it a foul tip. And first baseman Carlos Pena, chucking his bat halfway down the third-base line after whiffing on a 94 mph four-seamer one batter later, shaking his head in disgust.

The examples of Zimmermanns impressive sequences were seemingly endless: throwing an 0-2 heater up near the chin of shortstop Starlin Castro and coming back on the next pitch with a slider low for the swinging strikeout, looking strong even on his 98th pitch of the afternoon.

And then there was the moment the music stopped for Zimmermann. Three pitches: a curveball to Reed Johnson for a single, a slider to Ramirez for a two-run homer and his only changeup of the day, to Pena one batter later for the only run that would really matter. All three pitches were ones he said hed throw again if he could do it over.

“Any pitch is a good pitch if you locate it,” Zimmermann said. “All I have to do is locate them. I’m out of the inning if I can just locate one of the three pitches. Obviously, I didn’t and it was the end of my day.”

So as the Nationals tried to keep Marmol from straying back to his effective side, they bore in mind what their young right-hander had gone through a few innings earlier, and what their first baseman had experienced in that same inning. They knew theyd averaged just 3.3 runs in games that their best pitcher had started this season and that Morse was on his way to the hospital to have X-rays. Their best hitter was injured and their hottest hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, had been double-switched out of the game.

But, Desmond’s at-bat was not the end. The bases still were still loaded. The Nationals still had only one out, and there was an opportunity for a new hero to emerge.

“I really thought we had him,” Johnson said.

Wilson Ramos beat out an infield hit to third base to score Jonny Gomes from third. They trailed 4—3 and Marmol was teetering. But then that switch was flipped. He needed just four pitches to get Brian Bixler to strikeout swinging. Rick Ankiel gave a 2-1 slider a ride to the warning track, and the Nationals began filing off the field.

“He probably started figuring it out a little bit as the inning went on,” Bixler said. “That’s baseball…. He’s their closer for a reason. He’s got the stuff. Sometimes you get it done, sometimes you don’t. Nothing you can do about it, just get him next time.”

• Amanda Comak can be reached at acomak@washingtontimes.com.

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