MIAMI—— The Marlins had the right man on the mound to secure a record-setting 20th win in May.
Anibal Sanchez rules Washington like FDR.
More significant, it improved the Marlins' magical May to a major league-best 20-8, surpassing the 19-win August by the 1997 team that went on to win the World Series. It clinched the series win and moved the Marlins to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Nationals.
"I want to win 20 games every month," manager Ozzie Guillen said before the game. Afterward he added, "I think it's a nice thing for the organization, a nice thing for the group of guys that have battled very well since spring training.
"I think they're starting to believe. Even though we're missing a couple guys, key players for us, we're fighting through it."
Sanchez (3-3), coming off his worst start of the season (five runs in 5 1/3 innings of a 14-7 loss to the Giants) allowed only an unearned run on a suicide squeeze and three hits in seven innings. He is one of two active pitchers without a loss in 15 or more career starts against one opponent. Jon Lester is 14-0 in 19 starts against Baltimore.
The bullpen sealed the deal with Heath Bell converting his ninth save with a scoreless ninth, striking out two.
Steve Cishek came through with his second clutch relief effort in the past five days, retiring two of the Nationals' top hitters with the bases loaded in the eighth. He struck out Bryce Harper on high heat, then got notorious Marlin killer Ryan Zimmerman on an inning-ending grounder to third.
The decisive run, in the seventh, was also unearned, aided by a wild pickoff throw by Nationals starter Edwin Jackson, enabling Chris Coghlan to dash from first to third. Greg Dobbs, batting for Sanchez, drove him in with a shallow fly to left.
"The key reason why we're winning more of these games are stuff like that. There are one, two, sometimes three plays that are huge. It just so happened that was one of them," said Coghlan, who didn't hesitate in trying for third. "You're just thinking 3. I wasn't going to pull up."
Hanley Ramirez added an insurance run in the eighth with his eighth homer of the season into the left-field porch off Craig Stammen.
With the homer and double, Ramirez continued his personal May renaissance. He is on a .362 (25 for 69) binge over the past 18 games, raising his average to .265. Like Sanchez, he has preyed on the Nationals, coming into the game with a .340 average against them.
The Marlins were stonewalled by Jackson until the sixth, when they wiped out a 1-0 deficit on doubles by Omar Infante and Giancarlo Stanton. The two-out double by Stanton into the left-field corner was his 28th RBI of the month.
Stanton, who has hit 11 homers in May, is the fourth player under the age of 23 with that many homers and RBI in a calendar month since the expansion era began in 1961, according to Stats LLC. The others were Johnny Bench (11, 36) in July 1970, Bob Horner (14, 32) in July 1980 and Adam Dunn (12, 27) in August 2001.
Ramirez's two-out double in the first was the only hit by either team through four innings.
Sanchez, who has gotten the seventh-lowest run support in the majors, had recorded seven groundouts and three strikeouts to that point.
Ian Desmond broke the spell with a single on Sanchez's first pitch of the fifth. Desmond stole second and went to third on catcher John Buck's errant throw. He scored on a perfectly executed squeeze by Corey Brown.
Sanchez dodged Harper's two-out triple in the sixth. Bryan Petersen was shaken up when he crashed into the center-field wall in pursuit of Harper's deep drive but remained in the game. Sanchez got Zimmerman on a grounder to short to end the inning.
The Marlins will attempt to add to the record total and complete the series sweep with Josh Johnson facing Chien-Ming Wang, making his first start of the season.
Looking ahead, Guillen put the record in perspective, saying, "I don't want to break it in May, and June we disappear. I want to be good consistently for six months."