ATLANTA -- Nobody on the Marlins is calling their series with the Braves “must win.” But what transpires over the coming days at Turner Field matters so much for the Marlins, and in more ways than one.
Their position in the standings.
The direction the front office takes between now and the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.
Team morale in general.
On Monday, the Marlins got off on the right foot with a 3-1 victory in 10 innings over the Braves, one of the teams they’re chasing in the National League East.
After squandering a golden chance to take the lead in the ninth, coming up empty after loading the bases with no outs, Garrett Jones came up big for them in the 10th with a two-run single off Braves rookie reliever Shae Simmons.
"Every game is crucial from here on out," Jones said. "We can't waste any games, can't give any away."
Said Marlins starter Tom Koehler, who didn't budge an inch for seven innings in a head-to-head match-up with Braves pitcher Julio Teheran: "It's a huge series. I don't want to say it's make or break. But we're running out of season, and these are guys who are ahead of us. Today was a big game to win.”
Steve Cishek preserved the win in the 10th with his 22nd save, and the Marlins managed to come out on top on a night when the Braves sent out a pitcher -- Teheran -- they had never before defeated.
Teheran breezed through the first four innings, allowing just one base runner on Christian Yelich’s leadoff walk in the fourth. Andrelton Simmons gave him a lift one batter later when he turned in a spectacular defensive play. With the hit-and-run on, Simmons went to cover second as Jordany Valdespin ripped a hot grounder behind the shortstop.
Last year’s Gold Glove shortstop reversed momentum, diving to his right to make the grab before diving back the other way and tagging the bag at second with his glove for the force.
But Teheran’s no-hit bid ended with two outs in the fifth when Jarrod Saltalamacchia swatted his first pitch into the bleachers in right to knot things up. It turned out to be the only run allowed by the Braves pitcher.
Teheran equaled a career high with 11 K’s, with nine of those coming at the expense of the Marlins’ six through nine hitters. Teheran has never lost to Miami in seven lifetime decisions, though he failed to receive a decision Monday.
Koehler was every bit Teheran’s equal in the category that counts the most: runs allowed.
Koehler also gave up just one run on Chris Johnson’s second-inning ground ball. But it was a minor price to pay after the Braves started the inning by putting runners at second and third with no outs.
Koehler not only worked out of that jam, but got out of a first-and-third situation in the fourth and a bases-loaded logjam in the sixth without yielding any runs.
In the end, though, it came down to the bullpens. And it was the Marlins' that prevailed, with Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos, Bryan Morris and Cishek holding Atlanta to only one hit over the final 3 1/3 innings.
But the Marlins were nearly left kicking themselves.
The Marlins had Craig Kimbrel and the Braves in a rare position, backed against the ropes. With the score tied in the ninth, the Marlins loaded the bases with no outs, poised to take the lead.
And then, Kimbrel does what he does best. He worked out of it, whiffing Saltalamacchia and Adeiny Hechavarria before pulling off the escape act by retiring Donovan Solano on a soft liner to second.
The rally died, but the Marlins didn’t give up. After Yelich singled to lead off the 10th and Valdespin bunted him over to second, Giancarlo Stanton was walked intentionally, bringing up Casey McGehee, who also walked.
That brought up Jones, who singled up the middle on the first pitch he saw from Simmons.
"We can't rely on the same guys every single night to get the big hit," said Marlins manager Mike Redmond. "We need other guys. When we're winning games, we're getting contributions up and down the lineup. "And I think you saw that tonight. Salty had a big hit. Valdy got that bunt down and Jonesy got a big hit. Tonight was a total team effort."