Maybe Don Mattingly simply refuses to watch it anymore.
For the second night in a row, Mattingly was ejected and spent the final innings of another loss — the latest a nauseating 6-5 meltdown to the Cardinals in which the Marlins bullpen blew a 5-1 lead — from the sanctum of the clubhouse.
After Dan Straily turned in seven strong innings and even sparked the offense with a successful suicide squeeze bunt, the Marlins crumbled like a loaf of stale bread.
The Cardinals erased a four-run deficit in the eighth off relievers Kyle Barraclough and Brad Ziegler before taking the lead in the ninth off A.J. Ramos. It was the second collapse in five games. The Marlins blew a 7-1 lead in New York on Friday before losing 8-7.
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The Marlins’ ballyhooed bullpen was to blame in both defeats.
“We’re in a little funk and it’s not one thing that we can blame,” said Barraclough, who retired just one of the six batters he faced. “Two games out of the last (five), the bullpen has been handed a 4- or 5-run lead and we haven’t taken care of business. We’ve got to snap out of it and just move on.”
Bench coach Tim Wallach, who took over after Mattingly was ejected, attributed the bullpens’ recent woes to inactivity.
“I think it’s probably more underwork than overwork,” Wallach said. “We haven’t been in a lot of situations. Our guys are usually pretty sharp when they’re pitching a lot. We probably haven’t been in those situations enough lately.”
The Marlins spent a good part of their winter offseason — and a good part of their spending dollars — on bullpen upgrades.
It hasn’t been paying off lately.
After Barraclough and Ziegler allowed the Cardinals to tie it with four runs in the eighth, Ramos slipped — literally and figuratively — in the decisive ninth.
When Ramos fielded Magneuris Sierra’s soft tapper with one out, he wheeled and fired to first. But he slipped and his throw sailed into foul ground in the outfield. Sierra ended up at second and then scored on Dexter Fowler’s pinch-hit single.
“I’d throw that every time,” Ramos said, defending his decision. “I didn’t have my footing right. I think most of the time I make that play.”
That time he didn’t.
The Marlins got off on the wrong foot early.
Tempers flared in the first inning after Christian Yelich was called out on strikes by umpire Andy Fletcher. Replays showed the pitch was outside the strike zone. Yelich stood in disbelief, then exchanged words with Fletcher while making his way back to the dugout.
Once there, Yelich continued to beef, at which point Fletcher ejected him.
That drew the ire of Mattingly, who came out of the dugout to complain to Fletcher. The umpire, thoroughly fed up by that point, ejected the manager. It was the second straight night Mattingly was tossed. It was Yelich’s first ejection ever.
The two gained company inside the Marlins clubhouse in the third when Adeiny Hechavarria grounded out, ran gingerly to first, and came out of the game. Wallach said Hechavarria was dealing with a left oblique issue.
“He had a little tug at his left oblique so we’re going to take a look at it and see what it looks like tomorrow,” Wallach said. “Didn’t want to take any chances. Obviously with what we’ve had going on lately, we want to be a little careful there.”
With Martin Prado and Miguel Rojas landing on the disabled list, an injury to yet another infielder would be a costly blow to the Marlins. Rookie J.T. Riddle took over for Hechavarria at shortstop.
Lost in the mayhem was a fine pitching duel between Straily and Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright. It was scoreless until the fifth when Tommy Pham drove in the game’s first run with a RBI double.
The Marlins got the run back in their half of the fifth on a gutsy call.
With runners at second and third and one out, the Marlins put on the suicide squeeze on a 3-2 pitch to Straily, who dropped down a perfect bunt that scored Derek Dietrich from third with the tying run.
Straily owns the worst career batting average in the majors (.015) among players with as many at bats as his 64. But he’s an exceptional bunter and Miami used it to their advantage.
“I learned that from Donnie. We did that in L.A. one time,” Wallach said. “It’s a good situation. It’s second and third. He doesn’t want to walk the pitcher, so he’s going to throw him a strike there.”
Said Straily: “I was just anticipating it. Looking back on it, 3-2 (count) is probably the best time on the at bat to do the suicide squeeze. I’m not going to lead the team in hits, so I might as well be a really good bunter.”
The Marlins scored three more runs in the inning, and Straily left after the seventh, and having thrown 92 pitches, with a 5-1 lead. Wallach said there was no thought given to allowing Straily to go back out for the eighth, such is the confidence the coaching staff has in the bullpen.
But after watching the bullpen blow two big leads in five days, they might have to re-think that position.
“Our bullpen is really, really good,” Straily said. “Two games this last week where we’ve lost the lead late, in two months nobody’s going to remember that because they’re going to be on track.”