MIAMI -- Michael Morse's three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning helped the Nationals defeat the Marlins, 6-4, at Sun Life Stadium on Monday night. Washington extended its road win streak to nine games.
The Nationals also will finish in third place in the National League East, the highest ranking they have had since moving to the nation's capital after the 2004 season.
The Nationals were down, 4-3, with two outs, when Morse swung at a 1-1 pitch from Edward Mujica and homered over the left-field wall for his 30th home run of the season. It the first time in his career that he has hit that many homers in a season.
"Tough one," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "I thought we had it in the bag, but I guess it's just one of those years. We just can't close it out. It's tough. You think you're on the verge of pulling one off. The guys battled their tails off, and we just couldn't close it out."
Morse became the fourth player -- Ryan Zimmerman, Alfonso Soriano and Adam Dunn are the others -- in Nationals history to hit 30 or more homers in a season. Morse didn't know what he accomplished until a reporter told him of the distinction.
Not bad for a guy who spent almost 10 years in the Minor Leagues. He spent almost a month on bench for not producing earlier in the season. Morse's stats might have been even better if then manager Jim Riggleman stuck with him during the month of May.
"To me it's a great accomplishment," Morse said about hitting 30 home runs. "It shows that a lot of hard work and determination could pay off. I never gave up on myself in my career. It has been tough. I said before, everything that has happened in my career made me get to this point where I am now."
Left-hander Tom Milone started for the Nationals and he lasted 4 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. During his five starts, Milone went 1-0 with a 3.81 ERA with just four walks in 26 innings.
"It was a learning experience coming up here and throwing to big league hitters," Milone said. "That's something I need to take away going into Spring Training. I got five starts coming up here facing big-league hitters. I think that was the most important thing for the Nationals for some of the young guys to come up and get that experience in September."
Florida was able to take a 1-0 lead off Milone in the second inning, when Logan Morrison hit a solo homer.
But Washington was able to tie the score an inning later against right-hander Anibal Sanchez, when Ian Desmond scored on a groundout by Rick Ankiel.
After the Marlins took the lead in the bottom of the third inning on a single by Stanton, Washington took a one-run lead off Sanchez by the top of the fourth inning. Desmond highlighted the scoring with an RBI double.
Milone already left the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when the Marlins tied the score at 3. Vinny Rottino touched home plate on a wild pitch by Craig Stammen.
The Marlins then took the lead in lead on the seventh inning. Right-hander Ryan Mattheus was able to get two quick outs, but had a tough time getting the third one. Omar Infante singled before Todd Coffey entered the game and allowed a walk to Mike Stanton.
Gaby Sanchez was the next hitter and singled to right field, scoring Infante. Stanton advanced to third when the ball went past right fielder Jayson Werth for an error, but no further damage was done.
It was Morse who did the rest of the damage with the game-winning homer. With the victory, the Nationals improved their record to 79-80. Talk to members of the Nationals and they realize that finishing in third place is a big deal. Prior to this year, they have finished in either fifth or sixth place since moving to DC.
But don't think they are satisfied with what they have accomplished. They believe they can do even better next season.
"A lot of these guys wish there was another month left," Morse said. "We are jelling together . We are pushing forward. We are showing teams that we can turn this division around soon. We want to win a World Series. ... That is our No. 1 goal and I think we are getting closer and closer to that."
Said Desmond, "We still have work to do. We expect to win. We are going to play hard tomorrow and take it from there. Honestly, I don't think anybody knows that we clinched third place today. Our goal is to play as hard as we can and have the momentum going into Spring Training next year and have a little bit to hope for."
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.