All of a sudden, big early deficits don’t seem so insurmountable for the Marlins anymore.
For the fifth time in its past nine games and the 10th time this month, Miami pulled off a come-from-behind victory on Wednesday afternoon, rallying from an early three-run hole behind a pair of scant, two-run home runs from Jeff Mathis and Placido Polanco to upend the Twins 5-3 in front of 15,318 fans at Marlins Park.
How rare were those blasts by the starting catcher and third baseman for the Marlins?
Mathis, batting .096 with no hits in his previous 15 at-bats when he stepped to the plate in the fifth against Twins starter Scott Diamond, hadn’t hit a round-tripper since last Aug. 24 when he was still wearing a Blue Jays uniform.
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For Polanco, who homered off reliever Ryan Pressley in the sixth to break a 3-all tie, it was his first blast in more than a year — dating to June 4, 2012 when he was the Phillies.
“That just shows you when you start playing better and guys continue to gain confidence, you have lots of different contributors,” said Marlins manager Mike Redmond, whose team is 13-9 in June (among the top winning percentages in the National League this month).
The Twins (34-40) had the Marlins (27-50) right where they wanted to early.
Starter Tom Koehler was all over the place in the first inning. He walked the first two batters he faced, tossed a pickoff throw well wide of first base for an error, and then gave up back-to-back, run-scoring singles to Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham before recording his first out on a grounder to first.
Even that ended badly. Logan Morrison fielded it cleanly, stepped on first and instead of throwing home to get Mauer, turned and threw toward second base to try to get Willingham. The ball plunked the former Marlin in the back and scurried away as the Twins took an early 3-0 lead.
The Marlins put runners on second and third with two outs in the bottom half of the first, thanks to a single to left from Giancarlo Stanton and a double down the left-field line by Marcell Ozuna. But the opportunity was wasted when Morrison flew out to left on the first pitch he saw.
Diamond then retired 10 hitters in a row from there before giving up a leadoff single in the fifth to Polanco. Two batters later, Mathis stepped to the plate and shook his head in frustration after plate umpire Tim Welke called strike two on what Mathis thought was ball four. On the ensuing 3-2 pitch, though, Mathis drove one 394 feet and over The Clevelander bar in left field to trim the Twins’ lead to 3-2.
“I thought the pitch was up, but it must have been a strike,” Mathis said afterward. “I was glad to continue that at-bat.”
Three consecutive singles from reliever Kevin Slowey, Justin Ruggiano and Ed Locus loaded the bases for slugger Stanton, who tied the game at 3 when he grounded out softly to first.
Ozuna, red-hot at the plate with runners in scoring position, couldn’t break the tie and instead struck out swinging when he chased a curveball in the dirt.
But there was no reason for concern for the Marlins. The next inning, Morrison led off with a single to left, and Polanco followed by sneaking a 354-foot shot just inside the left-field foul pole for a two-run blast and a 5-3 lead.
“Winning changes a lot of things,” Koehler said. “... Right now I think guys are playing with a lot of confidence and having a lot of fun doing it.”
Slowey tossed three scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win and take Koehler off the hook. The right-hander lasted just four innings and threw 85 pitches, walking four. Slowey, who picked up his second win of the season as a reliever, also picked up his first hit since 2008 — when he was back with the Twins.
Closer Steve Cishek picked up his 14th save of the season and ninth this month.
The Marlins bullpen, which went 0-6 in May, improved to 8-4 this month by picking up the win. That ties the Diamondbacks’ bullpen for the most wins in the NL this month.
“There is no deficit anymore where this game is going to be too tough,” Koehler said. “... They get three in the first that doesn’t mean this game is over. This offense has shown the resiliency to come back.”