- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2014

MIAMI — If there were any doubts about how the Nationals would play after clinching the National League East, any questions about their intensity level entering the final weeks of the season, they were answered in one play Thursday night.

With one out in the fourth inning, Marlins first baseman Jeff Baker hit a flare off the end of his bat to shallow left-center field. Denard Span, who two nights earlier had wandered the visiting clubhouse wearing ski goggles dripping with champagne, took off after it.

It looked like the ball would be out of his reach. But at the last moment, Span lunged, stretched and grabbed it inches away from the ground, completing one of his best catches of the season.

The play was not directly responsible for the Nationals’ 6-2 victory over the Marlins, but it was indicative of the mindset they have adopted for the remainder of the regular season. With the division title locked up, they’ve moved on to the next goal: clinching the best record in the NL, and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

“It’s important for us to push,” manager Matt Williams said before the game. “We need to try to stay with our plan and win games.”

The Nationals did not record a hit until the fourth inning Thursday, when Anthony Rendon singled to left field. Then they collected hits in seven of their following 10 at-bats, resulting in all six of their runs.

Wilson Ramos started the scoring with his RBI double to deep right-center field. That double, five more singles and an error by Marlins right fielder Reed Johnson put the Nationals ahead, 5-1, at the end of the fourth.

Another single by Rendon and an RBI double by Jayson Werth brought home another run in the fifth.

Gio Gonzalez turned in another strong performance, limiting the Marlins to two runs and six hits over seven innings. He struck out five and, more importantly, did not walk a batter for the second time in his past three starts.

Craig Stammen pitched a spotless eighth inning before Rafael Soriano retired the Marlins in order in the ninth, one of his best outings since being removed from the closer’s role.


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