The Marlins’ Five Most Memorable Games
October 26, 1997: Return on Investment
Florida owner Wayne Huizenga has invested a ton of money into player payroll and built a roster with numerous All-Stars, and thanks to the recent advent of the wild card, the fifth-year Marlins were about to bare the fruit of his expensive labor force in the seventh game of a sloppy, much maligned—but very entertaining—World Series against the Cleveland Indians, whose fans had suffered without a world title for half a century.
For six innings, the Marlins and the 67,000 in attendance at Miami fell silent to 21-year-old Indian starter Jaret Wright, who had allowed just one hit and four walks through six shutout innings. The Indians, meanwhile, had taken an early 2-0 lead off Florida starter Al Leiter and held onto it through the seventh-inning stretch. Bobby Bonilla led off the Marlin seventh with a solo shot, helping to knock Wright from the game, but the game stayed 2-1 until the bottom of the ninth for Indian closer Jose Mesa—who couldn’t get the job done, placing Florida runners at the corners with one out before Craig Counsell’s sacrifice fly sent the tying run home.
Two innings later, the Marlins threatened anew. Bonilla led off with another hit, this time a single; with one out, Counsell returned to the plate and grounded what appeared to be an inning-ending double play ball to Cleveland second baseman Tony Fernandez. But Bonilla, running from first, shielded the ball in front of Fernandez, who lost sight of it and had it deflect off the top of his glove and into right field, moving Bonilla to third. After an intentional walk and a force out at home, 21-year-old Colombian native Edgar Renteria lined a shot just inches over pitcher Charles Nagy’s outstretched glove and through the infield, sending Counsell home with the run that made the Marlins the first wild card to win a World Series.
No sooner had Huizenga hoisted the World Series trophy did he rain on the parade, saying that a new ballpark was more important than winning it all on the field. Having lost $30 million on the year with no new baseball palace on the horizon, Huizenga quickly dismantled the Marlins roster in one of baseball’s most notorious fire sales of talent.
October 25, 2003: Oops, They Did it Again!
In just their 11th season, the Marlins won their second World Series title without the benefit of ever having finished first in a divisional race—this time accomplishing the feat more impressively, with less of a star-studded roster and a feverish rebound late in the year to earn the wild card spot after falling as low as 10 games below the .500 mark at midseason.
But in order to repeat the improbable, the Marlins had to get past the heavily favored—and heavily financed—New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium in Game Six. Manager Jack McKeon, who had taken the managerial reins after Opening Day and presided over the Marlins’ impressive comeback in the standings, rolled the dice and took the risk of sending out young Josh Beckett, who had quickly blossomed into the team ace in October, to start the game on three days’ rest rather than keep him on ice for a possible seventh game.
The Marlins didn’t give Beckett much support—but he didn’t need much anyway. Florida scratched out single runs in the fifth and sixth innings, all while Beckett mowed down the titanic Yankee lineup with consistent efficiency, throwing 107 pitches (71 for strikes) as he shut down the Yankees from start to finish, allowing just five hits and two walks while recording his second shutout of the postseason—and the second of his three-year career to date.
October 14, 2003: Thank You, Mr. Bartman
The Marlins’ path to the 2003 World Series was made a bit easier thanks to a memorable Game Six at Chicago’s Wrigley Field that, for cursed Cubs fans, will live in utter infamy.
The Cubs led the series, three games to two, and led the game, 3-0, in the eighth inning when, with one out and one on, the Marlins’ Luis Castillo hit a foul ball down the left field line that appeared to be catchable for Chicago outfielder Moises Alou. One problem: One of his own fans got in Alou’s way in an attempt to grab a souvenir. That fan, Steve Bartman, would only end up grabbing unwanted ignominy for the rest of his life.
Given new life, Castillo walked, and the floodgates opened for the Marlins—scoring eight times in the inning before the third out was finally recorded. As targeted as Bartman was with the wrath of Wrigley fans, equal if not worse blame had to be applied to Cub shortstop Alex Gonzalez, who botched Miguel Cabrera’s double play ball midway through the inning to truly open things up for Florida. The Cubs could not mount a comeback—and mentally couldn’t recover in Game Seven, as the Marlins marched on to their second World Series.
October 12, 1997: Thank You, Mr. Gregg
In a pivotal NLCS Game Five matchup at Miami between Florida and divisional rival (and favorite) Atlanta, the burden of breaking the 2-2 series tie in favor of the Marlins fell upon the shoulders of 22-year-old rookie and Cuban émigré Livan Hernandez, who had just earned the Game Three win pitching in relief two days earlier—and was filling in for ace Kevin Brown, sidelined for the day by a stomach virus. Adding more pressure to Hernandez’s emergency assignment, the Braves were countering with their own ace, one Greg Maddux.
Hernandez passed the test with flying colors, outdueling and outlasting Maddux, throwing 143 pitches and allowing just a run on three hits and two walks in a complete-game gem. Beyond all of this is the one stat the really stood out in the box score for Hernandez: Fifteen strikeouts, four more than he’s thrown in any game before or since. Atlanta fans will forever credit, with bitter sarcasm, home plate umpire Eric Gregg for the 15 K’s, complaining that the strike zone was considerably wider when Hernandez took the mound—wide enough to stretch “halfway to Hernandez’s homeland of Cuba” as put by the New York Daily News’ John Harper. Many found irony in the complaints, given that Atlanta pitchers such as Maddux and Tom Glavine had been benefitting greatly from a generous outside portion of the strike zone throughout the 1990s.
The Braves’ only hurt on Hernandez came in the second when Michael Tucker blasted a leadoff homer to tie the game at 1-1. The Marlins unlocked the score in the seventh when Jeff Conine singled in Bobby Bonilla, who had doubled to lead off the frame. Hernandez struck out eight of the last 11 batters he faced to give the Marlins a series advantage they would not relinquish.
September 26, 2016: Remembering #16
In a game that packed more pain, healing and emotion than possibly any major league contest before it, the Marlins took to their home field for a night game against the New York Mets less than 48 hours after the devastating news that they had lost ace pitcher Jose Fernandez, their best pitcher and best friend, as a result of boating accident.
Having canceled the game a day before as they struggled to absorb the news of Fernandez’s death, the Marlins returned to the field with a deeply heavy heart. They all wore Fernandez’s #16 jersey, which the team announced would be permanently retired. A pregame ceremony—a memorial service, really—included Marlins players kneeling around the mound in a moment of silent tribute to their fallen teammate. Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, one of the last to see Fernandez alive and had tried to talk him out of the fateful midnight boat ride, broke down. A trumpeter played a sorrowful version of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. As the Mets batted in the top of the first, a TV camera provided a close-up of Marlins star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton in right field. Tears were running down his cheek.
In the bottom of the first, Dee Gordon led off for the Marlins and homered. It was his first deep fly of the season, in his 304th at-bat. After receiving multiple hugs from teammates, a heartbroken Gordon went straight into the clubhouse.
The emotions of the moment fueled the Marlins. Gordon added three more hits (all singles) and Justin Bour ripped a double and triple as part of the offensive charge. Miami scored seven runs in the first three innings off the normally tacitly tough Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon, and it was all the team would need as it breezed to a 7-3 victory behind nine pitchers, all performing on a day that Fernandez had originally been listed as the starter.
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