Marlins show early-season spirit in comeback win over Nationals
MIAMI — Believe.
That’s what Miami Marlins third-base coach Brett Butler told players in the dugout during the seventh inning of Monday night’s critical series opener against the Washington Nationals.
What else is there to say to a club down by six runs to the division leader during a pivotal stretch leading up to the trade deadline? Or when statistics show just a 2.9 percent chance of making the playoffs?
Six outs later, the Marlins raced out of the dugout to throw water on Jeff Baker following a seemingly improbable 7-6 walk-off victory over the Nationals.
"Biggest win for now," Baker said. "If we win tomorrow that will be the biggest win of the year."
Miami (52-53) scored two runs in the seventh on Garrett Jones’ RBI triple and Marcell Ozuna’s RBI single. In the eighth, the Marlins added a run on Baker’s pinch-hit RBI groundout. The last piece of magic came in the decisive four-run ninth against closer Rafael Soriano, who entered with a 1.10 ERA and 25 saves in 28 opportunities.
Casey McGehee worked a leadoff walk before Jones doubled and Ozuna singled. With runners at the corners and a run already across, Jarrod Saltalamacchia trimmed the deficit to one with a sacrifice fly to right.
Adeiny Hechavarria proceeded to work an 11-pitch at-bat, finally getting around an 85 mph slider for an RBI triple into the right-center gap. After Christian Yelich struck out against lefty Jerry Blevins, Baker sent the gamewinner over Bryce Harper’s head in left.
Just like that, a six-run deficit evaporated and became a thrilling victory, the largest comeback (of 20) this season and eighth of the walk-off variety for Miami.
The last time the Marlins won after trailing by six-or-more runs in the seventh inning or later was June 28, 2003 in Boston. Behind 9-2 in the eighth, the Marlins rallied for a 10-9 win against the Red Sox.
Should one’s memory be failing at the moment, the organization would go on to capture its second World Series that October.
Manager Mike Redmond, a member of that championship team, called the one cheering each other on Monday a "special group."
"This group, these guys don’t quit," Redmond said. "They don’t cash in. They keep fighting. That’s I guess at this stage, that’s gotta be the biggest game of the year for us. It just is. From where we are in the standings, from where we’ve gotta go, and these guys understand that.
"Talking about contributions. We’ve been talking about that all roadtrip, different guys getting big hits in big situations, I think you saw that today. There’s so much that happened over the last three innings, but these guys, they believe in themselves, they believe in each other. We just keep grinding it out. That’s this group."
Miami arrived back home winners of seven of its past eight, including four in a row, but quickly fell behind when things unfolded in the five-run sixth.
It wasn’t the kind of start the club wanted for a seven-game homestand. By night’s end, however, it pulled within six games of the Nationals (57-46) in the NL East and five in the NL Wild Card.
"It means a lot," Saltalamacchia said. "All year long we’ve done some good things late in the game, we’ve been able to fight back just couldn’t finish it. To be able to finish it tonight is a huge victory for us. It’s a feel-good moment. We’ve got to enjoy this one tonight and come back tomorrow and worry about that one.
"That’s what I love about this team is there’s no quit even when we’re down 6-0, 2-0. There’s no quit. You’ve got to play the game until the last out. That’s something we preached in spring training and continued to do it. It’s just the integrity of the game. You don’t give up regardless of what the score is or where you’re at in the standings."
With the Hot Stove cooking and rumors circulating, Miami has regained its groove. Prior to the game, president of baseball operations Michael Hill said the organization would not be in the "seller category."
This is the second five-game win streak of the season and the second-best stretch since going 9-1 from April 29-May 8. If the Marlins want to make this postseason race interesting, they need to beat those in front of them.
Over the next two weeks, Miami faces the Nationals, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, Reds again and St. Louis Cardinals. Each club sits in front of the Marlins in the standings.
"If the team does it like that through the rest of the season we have a chance to make the playoffs," Ozuna said.