The last thing anybody expected on Zombie Night at Marlins Park was for someone to get dunked on.
But Christian Yelich was happy to oblige after a wild, 10-9 victory against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night.
After driving in Dee Gordon with a walk-off hit in the 10th inning, the 23-year-old Gold Glove-winning left fielder had a tiny basketball bounce off his head mid-interview on live television.
Gordon dunked on Yelich while pitcher Mat Latos held a kid-sized basketball rim and backboard up ‒ a plan the team’s new second baseman and starting pitcher concocted during spring training as a fresh way to celebrate walk-off wins this season.
“You can see by the postgame dunk we’re a pretty tight group,” closer Steve Cishek said. “Winning makes baseball a lot more fun.”
Winning almost eluded the Marlins, who were swept by the Atlanta Braves to start the season, again.
Leading 8-1 in the seventh, manager Mike Redmond pulled starter Dan Haren after just 79 pitches to get his bullpen some work. It didn’t turn out to be a wise decision.
Tampa Bay sent 11 batters to the plate in the seventh, scoring its first three runs on walks issued by David Phelps and Sam Dyson and then three more on pinch-hitter David DeJesus’ double off the right-center field wall against A.J. Ramos.
DeJesus then tied the score at 8-8 when Asdrubal Cabrera’s hit up the middle trickled off Gordon’s glove into center field.
“I don’t know if it was Zombie Night or whatever, but we just couldn’t find the [strike] zone,” Cishek said. “The best part about baseball, it’s a team game. Our boys picked us up offensively and it was a great outcome in the end.”
Giancarlo Stanton put the Marlins back in front 9-8 with his third RBI of the night, a two-out single off Ernesto Frieri to center field in the eighth inning.
But Cishek, shelled for four runs in his only appearance before Friday, couldn’t protect the lead in the top of the ninth.
A leadoff double by Brandon Guyer and a one-out bloop single by Bobby Wilson put runners on the corners before Cabrera sent a bouncer to Michael Morse at first base. Instead of coming home to try and prevent the run, Morse tried to turn a double play to end the game. But Cabrera beat Adeiny Hechavarria’s throw to first and Guyer scored to tie the score at 9-9.
The Marlins went hitless in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, but in the bottom of the 10th, Gordon reached on a one-out double to right off Brad Boxberger (the Rays’ eighth pitcher of the night) and then Yelich delivered his third career walk-off hit, a single through the left side of the infield.
Gordon had three hits and four runs ‒ one more run than the Marlins totaled in their season-opening three-game sweep at the hand of the Braves.
“It wasn’t draining, but we needed that win though,” Yelich said. “It would have been easy to fold it up 8 to 1 and then they come back and tie it up and they come back and tie it up again. We just kept battling and that was a big team win for us. We finally got on the board.”
Miami grabbed its first lead of the season in the first inning on a Morse two-out single and then turned a 2-1 lead into a seven-run cushion with a six-run fourth.
Hechavarria picked up his first hit of the season ‒ an RBI double ‒ and then scored on Yelich’s bases-loaded single to center, his first pair of RBI on the season. Stanton then doubled home two more runs and Morse picked up his second RBI with a single to right.
All that offense appeared to be more than enough for Haren, who navigated his way through a Rays lineup that featured two rookies and not a lot of recognizable names beyond All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria.
Haren went six innings, giving up just four hits ‒ the worst being a fourth-inning solo home run to Kevin Kiermaier. But the Marlins bullpen unraveled – making the night a lot more exciting.
“Hopefully, that’s the hardest one we have to get,” Haren said. “It’s tough getting the first one. Everybody was pressing a little bit. It’s definitely good to come out on the right side of that because it would have really stung not winning that game.”