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Marlins appreciate fan support in home opener

The Marlins fell short to the Braves in their home opener, but energy from the fans was felt.

MIAMI – Opening night 2013 at Marlins Park began with a festive nod to the franchise’s first 20 years.

The Miami Marlins ended the evening by creating more excitement, only to fall short.

In the second home opener at their domed home, the Marlins lost to the Atlanta Braves 2-0 on Monday night. The game took only 2:33, largely because both starting pitchers – Miami’s Kevin Slowey and Atlanta’s Paul Maholm – performed brilliantly.

Unfortunately for the Marlins and most of the announced 34,439 fans, the game’s offensive star was Justin Upton, whose four hits included a long home run down the left-field line.

After giving the fans little to cheer through eight innings – the wave even made a brief return – Miami’s hitters showed life in the ninth against Braves closer Craig Kimbrel.
Giancarlo Stanton led off by walking for the third time. He then was forced at second when second baseman Dan Uggla made a nice stop of Greg Dobbs’ hard grounder.

Justin Ruggiano then hit a liner that initially appeared destined to sail over Upton, until the left fielder made a nice running catch to his left.

“I was kind of hoping I got it over his head, “ Ruggiano said. “I’m not sure if he was playing (deep to prevent) doubles or not, but it’s a big ballpark. I didn’t expect it to go too far over his head if it did. I just missed it.”

Rob Brantly, who had struck out his first three times up, then a singled to center to put runners on first and third with two out. The crowd was loud anticipating some Marlins Magic after seeing Miami put the tying runs on base.

Hope of an opening night rally ended, however, when Kimbrel fanned Adeiny Hechavarria for the final out.

“We’re still waiting on the big hit,” said Miami manager Mike Redmond, whose team fell to 1-6. “Hopefully, that’ll take the pressure off offensively.”

Nearly three hours before the home opener, 14-year-old Louis Ballinger walked out of the team store wearing an old aqua Marlins hat and a current jersey showing injured first baseman Logan Morrison’s name and number. Ballinger’s mom called on other fans to support the 2013 Marlins.

“We’re from North Miami, so this is our neighborhood and we want to support our neighbors,” Diana Ballinger said.  “I hope fans show as much heart as the players.”

Under an open roof on a picturesque night, the pregame activities included the proverbial hearing both teams’ players introduced as they filled the respective baselines. There also was video clip of Marlins highlights through the years.

Unlike in chilly Washington a week earlier, the game-time temperature was 79 degrees – weather every Marlin appreciated the moment he stepped off the plane following a season-opening road trip.

“I have had the fortunate opportunity to play in the cold earlier in my minor league career,” Brantly said. “I was playing in the Midwest League where it’s snowing on your face when you’re playing.”

The Marlins added a nice twist to the ceremonial first pitch, forming a relay from left field that involved former Marlins stars Jeff Conine and Mike Lowell. “Mr. Marlin” Conine stood in left and threw toward third base to Lowell, who spun around and threw a strike to catcher Brantly at the plate.

Conine looked sharp wearing the team’s ol’ pinstriped vest with teal undershirt. Lowell sported a black Marlins uniform top.

The national anthem was performed by Colleen Brennan, who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the franchise’s first game 20 years earlier.

“I thought it was great. It was exciting,” Redmond said of the atmosphere. “I felt like the guys were energized and obviously glad to be home and in our home ballpark.

“I thought the fans were great. You could feel the energy. It was a way different feeling than whatever … Pro Player Stadium ... or whatever it’s called now, I don’t know. And it was a lot cooler, to.”

Redmond’s players noticed the support on Monday night, too.

“It was fun,” Ruggiano said. “The fans were into it. We didn’t give them too much to cheer about tonight. But it’s an amazing atmosphere to play in when we have that kind of support.”

Those in attendance saw Marlins shortstop Hechavarria make the play of the night with a sliding catch of Justin Heyward’s eighth-inning foul pop while reaching back.

Slowey was a star in defeat, allowing two runs and six hits in seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter.

“I’m pretty happy with that,” said Redmond, who added he’d take that every time out. “I like our chances, we’ll win a lot of games with that.”

Or at least battle to the end.

Charlie McCarthy can be reached at 
mac1763@bellsouth.net or on Twitter