Marlins Bat Around in Ninth to Avoid Sweep vs. Diamondbacks

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Marlins 11, Diamondbacks 3

PHOENIX, May 11 — An eight-run top of the ninth, one that saw 12 batters, fueled the Miami Marlins to an 11–3 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday afternoon. The victory prevented the Diamondbacks from a season sweep of the Marlins. A pinch-home run by Jordan Luplow in the bottom of the eighth prevented Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara — who pitched seven innings of one-run, two-hit ball — from getting the win.

Merrill Kelly had an uncharacteristically rough first two innings, taking 50 pitches to get through them. He faced six batters in each. In the first, a one-out walk by first baseman Garrett Cooper and two-out two-run homer by third baseman Joey Wendle gave the Marlins a 2–0 lead. Right fielder Avisail Garcia, up next, singled, but a 4–3 groundout by shortstop Miguel Rojas ended the frame.

In the second, a leadoff walk by center fielder Jesus Sanchez and single by left fielder Bryan de la Cruz put runners on first and second with nobody out for catcher Jacob Stallings. His single to left plated Sanchez. De la Cruz tried to take third, but first baseman Christian Walker cut off David Peralta’s throw home. Walker’s relay to third nailed de la Cruz for the first out of the inning. Two batters later, a two-out double by Cooper advanced Stallings to third. Neither scored, as DH Jorge Soler followed with a strikeout, so de la Cruz’s baserunning blunder might have cost the Marlins at least one run.

Diamondbacks Claw Way Back to Tie Marlins

Rookie Alek Thomas, who debuted Sunday, put the Diamondbacks on the board in the bottom of the third with a solo homer. Kelly did not let the Marlins extend the lead, keeping them scoreless for the rest of his outing. In the sixth, Caleb Smith took over for Kelly. He pitched three perfect innings with six strikeouts.

Thomas led off the bottom of the eighth against Marlins lefty Steven Okert with a single before catcher Daulton Varsho struck out. That brought up left-handed-hitting right fielder Pavin Smith, Okert’s third hitter. Diamondbacks skipper Torey Lovullo, knowing that Okert had to pitch to one more hitter, sent up right-handed-hitting right fielder Jordan Luplow to pinch-hit. Luplow was prepared. “I faced him one time previously,” Luplow recounted, “and I worked out with him off-season, so I knew I had to lock in on that guy. …I was just attacking something in the zone, trying to drive the ball.” Attack and drive he did, alright. On the first pitch, Luplow crushed a slider into the left-field bleachers for a game-tying two-run homer.

Ninth Inning Meltdown

With the score now 3–3, Lovullo did not make his usual move of using a trusted middle reliever. He revealed why after the game. Two relievers — lefty Joe Mantiply and righty Keynan Middleton — were unavailable due to a “stomach bug.” He added that Middleton “tried to make it go but couldn’t.” Consequently, Diamondbacks closer Mark Melancon took the mound in the top of the ninth. He walked leadoff man Avisail Garcia before Miguel Rojas popped foul to the first baseman. The speedy Jesus Sanchez hit a hot smash toward first. Walker made a diving grab to his right and threw to second for the second out. Sanchez beat the relay to Melancon at first, narrowly averting what would have been a side-retiring double play.

That made a huge difference.

The next hitter, Bryan de la Cruz, singled, putting runners on first and second for Stallings. His single to center brought in Sanchez, giving the Marlins a 4–3 lead. With runners now on the corners, Jazz Chisholm Jr. golfed a paint-scraping homer to the front row of the left-field seats. That was it for Melancon, who had given up his first homer of the season.

Situation Goes from Bad to Worse

In came the other recent returnee from the COVID list, J.B. Wendelken, whose time on the COVID list began the day before Melancon and ended the day after. Cooper singled. Soler singled, advancing Cooper to second. Erik Gonzalez singled, scoring Cooper and advancing Soler to second. Garcia, who led off the inning, belted a towering homer to the picnic overhang in left-center, making the score 11–3. Pinch-hitter Jesus Aguilar singled. Sanchez grounded to first unassisted. It took Wendelken six hitters to get one out. In the process, he surrendered four runs — the most in his career for appearances of one inning or fewer.

The Marlins sent Cole Sulser to pitch the ninth, and he took all of nine pitches to retire Rojas, Marte, and Beer. They flied to the warning track in left, grounded to second, and struck out, respectively.

Postgame Reflections

“I think we just ran out of gas there in the ninth,” a visibly disappointed Lovullo explained after the game. “I was proud of the way the guys fought to tie the game. It wasn’t an easy day for Merrill. I thought he was just grinding from the first inning on, but he managed to get on a roll in innings three, four and five, in which we were a little short in the bullpen today. Caleb picks up the slack from there and lets us play catch up with a big pinch-hit home run by Jordan.

“I feel like if we get back in the dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning and are one batter away from doing so, we’re gonna win that game. But it’s nothing you ever project, giving up whatever we gave up in the ninth inning. I don’t think that’ll happen very often. Our pitchers are too good for that. We’ll make some adjustments and make sure that that doesn’t ever happen again.

“But it’s been a good homestand so far. There are a couple of things we got to clean up and get ready for the Cubs. We’ll get that done.”

Kelly said he felt “pretty good,” despite his early struggles. “Baseball is a funny game. The other day I felt way worse, and the result was a lot better. Today I felt better, and the result was worse.” He praised Smith for his relief effort, saying it was “huge, especially when I only go five. There’s a lot more innings than I’d like to have them (the relievers) cover. But he went out there and shoved.”

Melancon and Wendelken

Melancon is not “commanding his cutter as well as we’ve seen or as well as he expects,” according to Lovullo. “It’s put him in a situation where he’s got to back off it and put it a little bit more in the middle of the plate. He’s close, very close. But it all comes down to command with him. If he’s throwing a cutter where he wants to, he’s gonna let it go and it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna have the right depth in the hitting zone, and it’s gonna land where he wants to. He’s gonna get outs.”

Wendelken “was up today,” Lovullo said. “He was a little bit up. But he missed some time, and like I said, we were a little bit short in the bullpen. We asked him to throw him back-to-back days. But he was ready, and he felt good. I just thought his pitches were up in the zone. That’s a key part of his equation. If he’s thigh-high, that’s the danger zone. He needs to be at the knees or above the belt. And he was right in that sweet spot for these hitters.”

“I’ll Take the Bet”

Lovullo said that Melancon’s adjustments can be made in his bullpen sessions and will not require him to take a step back from his role as closer. “He’s an easy bet to figure it out.” As far as Melancon pitching better with a lead than he does in a tie game, Lovullo was puzzled. “I’ve thought about that. I know that he’s closed out some games, and we’ve won games and the tie games I think hasn’t managed it as well.

“He’s gotten within one out a couple of times from getting through the inning. We’ve got to remember that. If we’re crisp and turn that double play on the Sanchez ball, we’re not even having this conversation. But those are the things we got to tighten down a little bit.

“There’s no explanation from me. He’s a competitor, and he’s gonna go out there and get it done. I’ll take the bet each night, if we get a runner on and he’s got two on, two strikes, and two outs on that hitter to get out of the inning. I’ll take my chances on those odds that he’s gonna find a way to get it done.”

Luplow and Pinch-hitting

Luplow’s home run was the first of his career as a pinch-hitter. He was unaware of that, telling the reporter who informed him that “pinch-hitting is probably the hardest thing in baseball to do.” When asked what makes it tough, Luplow said, “The preparation. It’s tough to go from zero to a hundred. Even though you’re watching the game, seeing the flow and what’s going on, it’s still hard to be mentally and physically in there.”

When comparing it to the third time facing a starter in the game, what makes pinch-hitting tougher is “the timing aspect. You get in your first at-bat, you can take a pitch. Pinch-hitting, you could have a guy on second base, third base, tie game, down by one, or leading off an inning and needing to get a rally going. You’ve got to be ready to hit right away. In the aspect of that, you don’t get your timing right away. You’ve got to trust whatever you’ve been doing in the cage or previously to hopefully work out in the field.”

Looking Ahead

Bass (1–1) got the win while Melancon (0–4) took the loss, both in relief. The Diamondbacks (17–15) have the day off Thursday before concluding their homestand with a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs (11–19). Meanwhile, the Marlins (14–17) will head home to open a nine-game homestand after a Thursday off-day. They will face the Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals, and, after another Thursday off-day, the Atlanta Braves. On Saturday, they will celebrate the 25th anniversary of their first World Series title, giving the first 8,000 fans in attendance a 1997 World Series replica ring.

Main Photo:

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Players/Managers Mentioned:

Sandy Alcantara, Merrill Kelly, Garrett Cooper, Joey Wendle, Avisail Garcia, Miguel Rojas, Jesus Sanchez, Jacob Stallings, Christian Walker, David Peralta, Jorge Soler, Alek Thomas, Caleb Smith, Steven Okert, Daulton Varsho, Pavin Smith, Torey Lovullo, Jordan Luplow, Joe Mantiply, Keynan Middleton, Mark Melancon, Jazz Chisholm Jr., J.B. Wendelken, Erik Gonzalez, Jesus Aguilar, Cole Sulser