- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2012

The balls sailed into the sticky D.C. air, bound for parts unknown. One to left. One to right. Two ferocious swings from two of the Washington Nationals’ coldest hitters. Danny Espinosa launched his above the Miami Marlins’ bullpen. Bryce Harper flirted with the third deck in right.

They were the crescendo on a rally that started small. The cymbal smash in the Nationals’ 10-7 victory that came after a rumbling. It began with an error, was exacerbated with a walk and featured two huge base hits from rookies chock-full of poise beyond their years of experience.

And just as the 33,449 at Nationals Park sounded as if they might explode, Espinosa and Harper blew the top off the place.

“This is how it’s supposed to be,” Espinosa said, his three-run shot busting open an eighth inning that began with the Nationals trailing 6-4, and Harper’s second-deck blast landing just after Espinosa had finished his curtain call to make it 10-6.

“This is what you dream to play in front of as a kid, a sold-out crowd making a lot of noise.”

“Awesome,” said catcher Kurt Suzuki, who made his Nationals’ debut after being acquired in a trade on Friday. “That was awesome.”

That the Nationals beat the Marlins on Saturday night was difficult for even the players who made it happen to wrap their minds around. They’d played so sloppily (three errors, two by Espinosa) for seven innings. Gave the Marlins so many opportunities. 

One unearned run that could’ve easily been three defined Jordan Zimmermann’s start (five runs) and ended his streak of pitching at least six innings in every outing this season. They forced him to throw 96 pitches in five innings, put the Nationals’ emergency-only middle infield under a microscope and had culprits that wouldn’t show up in the box score all over the place. Balls in the outfield were mishandled, runners that never should’ve been on base wound up scoring.

“They took advantage of every mistake we made,” said first baseman Adam LaRoche, the team’s only hope through the first seven innings as he clubbed his 22nd and 23rd home runs to continue a scorching second half. “[They] stole a bunch of runs. And it wasn’t looking good.”

“Zim didn’t pitch very well and we didn’t play very well,” said Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who apologized again to reporters for all the rewrites his team’s been causing. “But we persevered. That’s the makeup of this ballclub. Came roaring back, and it was fun. Really fun.”

Never more so than in the eighth.

It was a rally that began so innocuously — with Marlins left-hander Mike Dunn botching a routine play, missing the ball as he covered first on a feed from Carlos Lee — that it sent Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen on an expletive-laden tirade about the simplicity of it.

“We practice that [expletive] thing from the first day of spring training,” Guillen said, long after LaRoche had made himself comfortable at first on the error.

Jayson Werth then worked a walk. And with two outs, Steve Lombardozzi ripped a single up the middle to score LaRoche before Tyler Moore came up as a pinch-hitter and smacked a two-strike fastball into right field to bring Werth home as the tying run.

Then the Moore, who moved to a bench role upon Werth’s return from the disabled list earlier this week, could only watch as Espinosa’s ball took flight. Even with two outs, the rookie joked about the monstrous nature of the blast. “I was like, ‘I ain’t tagging for that,’” Moore said.

Harper’s home run, his first at home since June 3 and just his fourth extra-base hit since the All-Star break as he’s batted .184 in the second half, added to the pandemonium.

“It felt good off the bat,” Harper said, launching his bat toward the Nationals dugout triumphantly after he made contact. “I was just hoping I could run around the bases so finally I could touch first base again.”

As the crowd showered them with cheers and the Nationals added a third game between them and the Atlanta Braves in the National League East standings, they reveled in the moment. Werth sent Espinosa out for a curtain call. Morse doused him with a bucket of bubblegum. Veterans Mark DeRosa and Chad Tracy proudly enveloped Moore in the dugout for his game-tying pinch hit.

“I hear the stories of when they struggled last year or the year before that,” Moore said. “This is all I really know because I’m new. It was crazy, man. That’s one of the loudest times I’ve heard our crowd.”

The pennant race had finally found its way to D.C.

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