WASHINGTON — Pinch-hitter Laynce Nix hit a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Washington Nationals a 1-0 win over the Seattle Mariners on Thursday in an appropriately close game between a pair of .500 teams.
Nix’s fly to left off Chris Ray (3-2) was deep enough to score Danny Espinosa, who easily beat a throw from Mike Carp that was well up the first-base line. The Nationals (38-37) have won 11 of 12 and have a winning record for the first time since April 20 — and their first winning record this late in the season since the next-to-last game in 2005.
The Nationals swept the Mariners with three one-run victories, putting Seattle (37-38) below .500 for the first time since May 25.
Michael Morse opened the ninth with a single to left, and Espinosa followed by dragging a bunt for a single. Ivan Rodriguez bunted to move the runners over, but first baseman Adam Kennedy threw late to third to try to get the lead runner, leaving the bases loaded with none out.
Shortstop Jack Wilson kept Seattle alive by making a diving backhand stop on a grounder by Jerry Hairston with the infield in, then throwing from his knees to force pinch-runner Brian Bixler at the plate.
But Nix took Ray’s 0-1 pitch to the opposite field to settle a game that had earlier been dominated from the mound by Seattle’s Michael Pineda and Washington’s Jason Marquis. Marquis allowed three hits over eight innings with three walks and four strikeouts, while Pineda gave up four hits over seven innings with nine strikeouts and one walk — and an impressive 70 of his 97 pitches were strikes.
Tyler Clippard (1-0) pitched the ninth for the Nationals, who treated their return to .500 on Wednesday as a milestone event, the result of a climb from a nine-games-under hole in just two weeks. But, as manager Jim Riggleman said before Thursday’s game: “We’re not striving to be .500; we’ve got to raise the bar.”
Yet the Nationals never seem to run out of ways not to score. In the first, Jayson Werth doubled and went to third on a wild pitch, but he was out at home trying to score on a short flyball to center by Ryan Zimmerman. Franklin Gutierrez’ throw was wide of the plate, but catcher Miguel Olivo went up the line and made the catch-and-tag in one motion, apparently scraping the merest piece of fabric on the jersey as Werth ran by.
In the fourth, the Nationals had the bases loaded with one out, but Pineda struck out Espinosa and Rodriguez back-to-back on fastballs in mid-90s. In the seventh, Riggleman’s recent decision to start batting the pitcher in the No. 8 spot came into play when Marquis came up with two outs and men on first and second. Marquis struck out swinging.
The Mariners’ usual hitters couldn’t solve Marquis, so it was left to an American League pitcher getting a rare interleague at-bat to break up the prospective no-hitter. Pineda hit a weak bloop to center for his first career hit with one out in the sixth.
The Nationals have clinched their first winning June since 2005. They are 15-6 with six games left. … Washington has won nine straight vs. Seattle and is unbeaten against the Mariners since moving to the nation’s capital in 2005. … Washington’s recent winning spree coincided with Riggleman’s decision to move Werth to leadoff and bat the pitcher eighth, but neither move has played much of a part in any of the victories. Not concerned with superstition, the manager moved Werth back to No. 2 Thursday and put Roger Bernadina at leadoff. Riggleman said he’ll use that lineup against righties, while Werth will continue to bat leadoff against lefties. Washington is 9-1 with Werth at leadoff, but he’s batting only .179 in that spot. He went 1 for 2 with two walks Thursday. …. The experiment of having the pitcher bat eighth comes to an end Friday when the Nationals start using the designated hitter on the road in interleague series. Riggleman said he isn’t sure if he’ll resume it when the team returns home in July. … The Mariners also had a new No. 2 batter. 2B Dustin Ackley, who had a hit in each of his first five games, batted second for the first time. He went 0 for 3. … The Mariners return home for some away games starting Friday. Their three-game series against the Florida Marlins was moved to Seattle because Sun Life Stadium is preparing for a U2 concert. Florida will remain the home team and will bat last, and the series will be played under NL rules, without a designated hitter. “Being a visiting team in your home ballpark, that’ll be a different feel,” manager Eric Wedge said.