Packed house lifts Marlins in home opener

2 years ago

MIAMI — Marlins first baseman Garrett Cooper couldn’t hear himself think with two outs in the ninth inning of Thursday night’s home opener against the Phillies at loanDepot park.

With a paid attendance of 31,184 — the largest crowd since Opening Day in 2018 — fans packed popular spots like AutoNation Alley and the Budweiser Bar, as well as the newly refurbished Recess Sports Lounge, providing a boisterous atmosphere the organization wants to become the norm rather than the exception.

The season might be a week old, but Miami’s 4-3 win over Philadelphia felt like a fresh start. After going 1-4 at San Francisco and Anaheim to start the year, the Marlins (2-4) hoped a change of scenery could ignite the slumbering bats. During a 95-loss 2021 campaign, the club managed to go 42-39 at home. With aspirations to contend in ‘22, they need that — and more.

“The crowd helped a lot,” Cooper said. “I don’t think it’s been that loud in my five years here. It was a good spark to start us.”

A fancy LED light show debuted prior to the Marlins taking the field, but the revamped lineup didn’t flip the switch through three scoreless innings against Phillies starter Kyle Gibson. It wasn’t until one out in the fourth that the club’s returning players woke up the crowd. Cooper launched a solo homer — his first since becoming a father — and Jesús Sánchez followed with a triple.

After Jesús Aguilar struck out with the infield in, a pair of newcomers put together solid plate appearances to give the Marlins a 3-1 lead. Avisaíl García, who is 3-for-16, walked. Philadelphia-area native Joey Wendle then came through with a go-ahead two-run double to left. Wendle has been one of the few offensive bright spots early on, posting a .971 OPS.

Sánchez’s two-out RBI single in the fifth proved to be the difference because of Bryce Harper’s two-run double in the seventh. In a lineup featuring veterans with proven track records, Sánchez has had the decisive knock in both of Miami’s victories.

“The wins are going to get you settled down,” manager Don Mattingly said. “You need to put some wins on the board, and then, the season is going to come. The games are going to keep coming and guys are going to do their thing. That’s going to happen. You just don’t want to see it. I can tell they were trying really hard.”

Entering Thursday, the Marlins ranked last in the Majors with a .069 average with runners in scoring position. Their 2.8 runs per game ranked 27th. They showed some improvement by going 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position in the series opener. All but one of their six games this season has been decided by one run. Every play has been magnified.

Miami is in the midst of a 15-game stretch in which 13 of the contests are against clubs that finished above .500 last season. That includes the 107-win Giants, the contending Phillies, the Cardinals (an NL Wild Card club) and the World Series champion Braves.

And though the offensive production was still minimal, it was welcomed by ace Sandy Alcantara, who received an average of just 3.2 runs of support per nine innings in 2021. That ranked as the third-lowest total among qualified starting pitchers. Alcantara was sharper in his second start of the season, allowing two runs across 6 1/3 innings. He walked one batter after issuing five free passes on Opening Day, overcoming an aggressive Phillies lineup in the first inning.

When defensive replacement Bryan De La Cruz secured the final out — a Harper fly ball to left with the potential tying run at first — the crowd erupted. It also helped closer Anthony Bender bounce back after a blown save and a walk-off loss on the West Coast.

“I think the guys were ready to get back off the road,” Wendle said. “Lost a couple of close ones, and to win a close one — we all know that we can win games, we all know that we can win close games — but it helps your confidence when you do it. So we were able to pull it off tonight against a great baseball team in the Phillies. We’ll look to keep that momentum rolling into tomorrow.”