WASHINGTON -- Call them the Never Say Die Nationals. Washington scored five runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to defeat the Mariners, 6-5, on Tuesday night, thanks to a walk-off homer by catcher Wilson Ramos.
Washington was down, 5-1, entering the frame, and reliever Collin Balester had a feeling the team could make a comeback. The team's recent eight-game winning streak had a lot to do with that positive thinking.
"During that eight-game winning streak, I think we came together," Balester said. "We are closer as a team. I think everyone is feeding off each other. We are just hot right now. It doesn't matter what the score is, this team never gives up. That's the biggest part about this team. There is a lot of fight, and no giving up."
The Nationals proved they had that fight in them in the ninth against reliever Brandon League. Jayson Werth led off and reached base on an error by first baseman Justin Smoak. After Roger Bernadina walked, Ryan Zimmerman hit into a double play.
If that double play had been hit in any of the previous four seasons, the Nationals likely would have gone on to lose the game, but this is 2011. The Nationals expect to win.
Jerry Hairston Jr. followed Zimmerman and singled to center field to drive in Werth. Mike Morse then came to the plate and hit a liner that bounced off League's right leg for an infield single, putting runners on first and second.
League exited and was replaced by right-hander David Pauley, who allowed an RBI single to Danny Espinosa.
Then Ramos came to the plate. Hitting coach Rick Eckstein had told Ramos to be aware of Pauley's changeup, his second-best pitch. The first two pitches Pauley threw to Ramos were sinkers. The count was 1-1.
That's when Ramos decided to wait on the changeup. Then it came, and Ramos didn't miss it, hitting it over the wall in left-center to give the Nationals their 36th victory of the season.
Ramos knew the ball was gone the moment he hit it.
Once he touched home plate, his teammates playfully punched him, and he was taken by surprise when he was given a Gatorade shower. He was really expecting a shaving cream pie to the face.
"I was waiting on that pitch in that situation," Ramos said. "I hit that ball pretty good. ... I was very excited after I hit that ball for a home run. That was my first walk-off home run. So when I saw my teammates waiting for me at home plate, I was very excited."
Tuesday also marked the largest ninth-inning comeback in Nationals history. Prior to that, the Nationals had not won a game they trailed by more than two runs in the ninth inning or later.
Right-hander Livan Hernandez started for Washington, and it looked as though he was going to take his ninth loss of the season. Last week he pitched a three-hit shutout against the Cardinals, but he struggled in this one, lasting just four-plus innings and allowing five runs -- four earned -- on 10 hits. He found himself in trouble from the start, allowing two runs in the first inning.
With one out, Adam Kennedy singled to center field to score Ichiro Suzuki and give Seattle a one-run lead. Kennedy would score later in the inning on a single by Dustin Ackley.
The Mariners scored at least one run in three of the next four innings. In the third, Brendan Ryan scored on a fielder's choice by Ackley. An inning later, right-hander Doug Fister helped himself with an RBI single. In the fifth, Ryan singled to right field and advanced on an error by Werth. With Ryan now in scoring position, Kennedy drove in his second run of the game with a single to right.
"We strung together some hits. We didn't kill the ball, it was just good situational hitting," Kennedy said. "We kept the pressure on, but it would've been good to get a couple more, obviously."
Ramos may have gotten the Gatorade, but Washington's bullpen was the unsung hero. After Hernandez exited, relievers Balester, Ryan Mattheus and Todd Coffey blanked Seattle for five innings.
"We were down, 5-1, and even though it doesn't look like that big of a deal, if we gave up any runs, it changes the game," Balester said. "I know if it's 5-1, [and] you hold the game, this team can come back. Wilson had a great hit."
The ninth-inning heroics were necessary after Fister proved to be too much for the Nationals, pitching eight innings and allowing one run on three hits. That one run scored in the sixth inning, when Bernadina singled to center to drive in Ian Desmond. At one point, Fister retired 10 straight hitters.
"Fister had really quieted us," manager Jim Riggleman said. "He was so good that everybody was saying all the right things and staying positive, but he was just breaking bats and did such a great job that it couldn't be real positive, because he was shutting us down so good."
But fortunately for the Nationals, the Mariners' relief corps couldn't finish the job.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the Time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.