HOUSTON -- A scorched line drive struck pitcher Tom Koehler in the back, shot high into the air, and eventually fell into the waiting glove of shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria for an out.
Another hard hit ball off Koehler discovered a crevice in the oddly configured left-field wall at Minute Maid Park, missing a home run by inches and ending up going for a harmless double.
Such was Koehler’s good fortune on Saturday, as he and the Marlins rode the crest of an early five-run outburst before holding on for a 7-3 victory over the Astros.
"Some days you have all the luck and some days you have none," Koehler said. "It's why the say it's a game of inches. I was an inch away from that ball hitting me in the head and I was an inch away from that ball being a homer. But, at the end of the day, we're walking out of here with a 'W,' so it feels pretty good."
Koehler lasted only five innings, during which he gave up nine hits. But he left with a lead the bullpen managed to maintain to the end as the Marlins kept up their frantic excavation project to dig their way out of a hole in the standings.
The victory was the sixth for the surging Marlins over their past seven games, and it kept them in the conversation as a potential “buyer” leading into Thursday’s non-waiver trade deadline. If the Marlins continue their hot pace, they are almost certain to upgrade the roster rather than to disassemble it, or even to stand pat.
"We're aware of what we need to do," Koehler said. "There's no secret about that."
A victory on Sunday would give them a sweep over the Astros before returning home for a crucial three-game series against Washington, which leads the National League East by seven games.
Of course, the Marlins continue to pay a severe price for their pre-All-Star woes when they lost 20 of their final 30 games heading into the break.
While they have played better of late, they remain three games under .500 and sit behind five teams in the wild card standings.
On Saturday, they struck quickly off Houston starter Jarred Cosart, scoring a run in the first on Casey McGehee’s two-out single.
After Houston answered in their half of the first on Jason Castro’s two out, two-run homer off Koehler, the Marlins responded with an even bigger inning in the second.
The Marlins loaded the bases for Christian Yelich, who singled to tie it 2-2. Cosart struck out Jordany Valdespin for the second out.
But he was unable to make it past Giancarlo Stanton and make it through the rest of the inning unscathed. Stanton blasted the first pitch he saw past diving Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez. The ball was hit so hard that it bounced all the way to the wall, clearing the bases and giving the Marlins a 5-2 lead.
After that, the Marlins’ offense went mostly quiet, leaving it all up to Koehler and the bullpen to make the lead stick. While Koehler was constantly teetering, he somehow survived significant damage beyond a run the Astros scored in the fifth, his final inning.
Chris Carter's line shot up the middle hit Koehler in the upper back, looped high in the air, but came down in Hechavarria's glove for the out.
"It was kind of weird," Koehler said with a smile. "It kind of just used my back as a ramp to get to Hech."
Thus began a processional of relievers — Dan Jennings, A.J. Ramos, Mike Dunn and Chris Hatcher — to make the lead hold. And the Marlins increased their advantage in the ninth when Valdespin hit an opposite-field, two run shot off Chad Qualls. It was Valdespin’s first home run as a Marlin.