Detroit Tigers catcher Brayan Pena was the first to sense it when the pitch squirted past his glove. The crowd of 28,315 was the first to detect it when they saw the ball skip to the backstop. The fish inside the backstop aquarium at Marlins Park were the first to feel it when the ball struck their one-of-a-kind domain, jolting them from their aimless swim.
Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins had just thrown one of the oddest no-hitters in major-league history, a no-hitter that wasn’t decided until the bottom of the ninth inning — on the final pitch of the final day of the regular season, no less — when Detroit reliever Luke Putkonen uncorked a wild pitch, enabling Giancarlo Stanton to race home with the winning run in a 1-0 victory.
“I don’t know that, in your life, you can envision a no-hitter ending like that,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said.
Marlins outfielder Juan Pierre, who was playing in his 1,994th and, perhaps, final major-league game, called it the “strangest” game of any he has played in.
“I can’t even explain it,” Pierre said.
He was standing in the on-deck circle before Putkonen skipped a pitch past Pena, praying.
“I thought to myself, ‘God, give me this inning, a hit or whatever, to win and get the no-hitter,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez became the fifth Marlins pitcher to fire a no-hitter and first major-league pitcher to deliver a no-no on closing day since the Angels’ Mike Witt pulled off the feat in 1984. His performance was also the first complete-game no-hit gem decided in walk-off style since Washington’s Virgil Trucks did it in 1952.
Heck, Alvarez himself said he hadn’t thrown a no-hitter since he was 7 or 8 years old pitching in a Venezuelan Little League game.
But on the last pitch in the final inning of the season finale in an otherwise abysmal season for the Marlins, one in which they suffered 100 losses for only the second time in franchise history, Alvarez provided the highlight of the season.
“It was like nothing all year, to be honest,” Stanton said. “It really hasn’t been that exciting all year for us.”
Never mind that both teams were in get-it-over-with mode Sunday.
The Tigers are headed to the postseason and had nothing to play for. The Marlins just wanted to hurry home for the winter and forget a season that has been a bust from Day One. And, so, batters on both sides were swinging at anything and everything, home plate umpire Ron Kulpa was being particularly generous with his strike zone, and Tigers manager Jim Leyland was substituting liberally to give his players a rest before they face the pressure of the playoffs.
American League batting champion Miguel Cabrera did not play, his potent bat tucked safely away in the dugout rack.
Alvarez, one in the collection of players the Marlins received in their mega-trade with Toronto last November, worked his way through the Tigers lineup like it was nothing.
Only three Detroit batters managed to reach base: Prince Fielder when he was hit by an Alvarez pitch in the first, Jose Iglesias on a fielding error in the fifth, and Andy Dirks on a two-out walk in the ninth.
Alvarez received some help along the way, too.
Shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria made a leaping catch on Ramon Santiago’s liner in the third, preventing a base hit that would have ended the drama before it ever turned dramatic. Tigers starter Justin Verlander flared a fly ball down the line in right in the sixth that barely eluded Stanton’s outstretched glove and landed two feet foul. It would have been Verlander’s first major league hit. He returned to the batter’s box and promptly struck out.
But even after he struck out Matt Tuiasosopo to end the ninth and sending the third-largest crowd of the season at Marlins Park into a frenzy, Alvarez still did not have a no-hitter.
That’s because the Marlins still hadn’t scored, either.
“For eight and a half innings, we almost didn’t give it to him,” Stanton said.
Though Redmond said Alvarez would have returned to the mound to pitch the 10th had the Marlins not scored in the ninth, none of the Marlins wanted it to get that far.
Stanton, who had struck out in his three previous at bats Sunday, singled with one out in the ninth to start things. Logan Morrison followed with another single, and both Marlins advanced on the first of two wild pitches by Putkonen. Hechavarria had a chance to end it, but bounced to short for the second out. After Chris Coghlan walked to load the bases, Redmond sent up Greg Dobbs to pinch-hit for Koyie Hill.
Putkonen’s first pitch to Dobbs hit the backstop.
“I couldn’t see it,” Stanton said. “I thought he [Pena] caught it. I basically went off the crowd’s reaction. The crowd wouldn’t have been screaming like that if [Pena caught the pitch].”
And that was how it ended. Just like that, in a speedy two hours and six minutes, making it the quickest game all season for the Marlins, and easily the most satisfying. Alvarez was mobbed by his teammates, who grabbed at his jersey until it began choking him around the neck and he ripped it off himself.
Rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez took possession of Alvarez’s No. 37 jersey and held it up for the crowd.
Right then — right at that very moment — you would have never known the final chapter had been written on one of the worst seasons in Marlins history, that the painfully long season had finally come to an end.
“I think ending on this kind of note is awesome,” Dobbs said.
Said Stanton: “I don’t think I’ve been that excited all year.”
Until Alvarez saved the best for last, no one on the Marlins had.