Jack McKeon waited in front of the dugout, and when the victory celebration came his way he swapped high fives and back slaps with his jubilant, relieved players.
The Florida Marlins’ new 80-year-old manager still has the winning touch. McKeon earned his first victory since coming out of retirement when Florida broke an 11-game losing streak by beating the Los Angeles Angels 5-2 on Tuesday night.
”We’re a summer team,” McKeon said. ”Today is the first day of the summer. We like to play much better baseball in the summer than we do in the spring. So watch out from now on because summer’s here, and we’re here.”
Javier Vazquez and five relievers gave up 13 hits and the Angels had at least one hit in every inning, but they went 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position.
Gaby Sanchez hit his 13th home run and Hanley Ramirez had his first multi-hit game since May 21 for the Marlins, who improved to 2-19 in June. They are 1-1 since McKeon took over Monday as interim manager for the rest of the season.
”Every high point, you look over and he’s jumping up and down like a little kid,” catcher John Buck said. ”He was taking off your hand when he was giving a high five. I don’t know if he’s your regular 80-year-old. He’s full of energy.”
He’s shaking things up, too.
Ramirez, inserted into the cleanup spot for the first time in his career by the new manager, went 2 for 4 to hike his average to .206 and scored twice.
”I enjoyed the game,” Ramirez said. ”I hadn’t been doing that. I was thinking too much. I just went out there and played hard and had fun, like I used to.”
Anxious to end the losing streak, McKeon managed as if it was the World Series. When reliever Randy Choate walked the leadoff batter in the eighth and went to 2-1 on the next hitter, McKeon gave him a quick hook.
”He had seen enough,” Buck said. ”That’s what we needed – go against the grain a little bit.”
Burke Badenhop came on, and after giving up a single, he retired the next three batters to preserve a 3-0 lead.
The Angels finally scored with two outs in the ninth on Torii Hunter’s fourth hit, an RBI single. Another run scored on an error before Leo Nunez came on and struck out Russell Branyan with two on for his 20th save in 23 chances – but his first since May 31.
Mike Stanton, back in the lineup after missing three games with a right eye infection, had three hits and two RBIs. And for a change, the breaks went the Marlins’ way.
They totaled three infield hits, while the Angels hit into two double plays, including one when reliever Edward Mujica snared Hunter’s liner and then doubled a runner off second.
Vazquez (4-7) went 5 1-3 innings and allowed 10 hits but no runs to lower his ERA to 6.37, still the highest in the majors. The right-hander had been 0-3 in his past five starts.
”We have a good team,” Vazquez said. ”We just have to keep believing we do.”
The Angels stranded 13 runners, and at least one in every inning.
”We didn’t come through in the clutch situations,” Hunter said. ”That’s why we lost. We got hits but not at the right moment.”
Ervin Santana (3-8) of the Angels was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth trailing 2-0. He fell to 0-4 in his past five starts.
Sanchez homered with two outs in the first. Omar Infante made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the second, and he added an RBI single in the eighth.
Stanton doubled home Ramirez in the sixth and singled him home in the eighth. Soon the Marlins were piling onto the field for their first postgame celebration since June 10, with McKeon an enthusiastic participant.
”He would be the oldest high five I’ve ever had, for sure,” third baseman Greg Dobbs said. ”He still has a little strength in those paws, though. He’ll be fine giving high fives the rest of the season. He won’t develop carpal tunnel or anything.”
Notes: U.S. Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., planned to place a congratulatory statement in the Congressional Record recognizing McKeon for taking the job at the age of 80. McKeon lives in North Carolina. … McKeon, fondly remembered for leading the Marlins to the 2003 World Series championship, received a big ovation when he visited the mound in the sixth. … The Angels’ Alberto Callaspo singled in the eighth to end an 0-for-21 slump. … Santana reached in the second on an infield single, his first hit since 2007.