David Neal: Electric finish to a trying season for Miami Marlins

09/30/2013 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 6:53 PM

Marlins pitcher Henderson Alvarez ran off the mound, mistakenly thinking he had won after no-hitting Detroit over nine innings at Marlins Park on Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, his teammates wondered how long Alvarez would be allowed to pitch if they couldn’t break the 0-0 tie.

Drenched in the youthful camaraderie that retired athletes often cite as what they miss most about playing, Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton sat determined that would not be an issue.

Eventually, Stanton rumbled across home plate on a wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth to turn the 23-year-old Alvarez’s no-hitter into a 1-0 win. Stanton said he had to remember to touch home because he so wanted to hug Alvarez.

“I was in the on-deck circle a little nervous,” Alvarez told the media later through a translator. “My reaction [after the top of the ninth] was, I thought the game was over and we won 1-0. I thought the game ended in that inning.”

Stanton echoed what many in the locker room felt when he said, “I don’t think there’s ever been one to end like that. I don’t care how it ended, I’m just happy we got it for him. In the eighth, I knew I was going to be up in the ninth. I said there’s no way I’m going to let this go by. That’s the mentality I had to have in that situation.

“Even on the bases, I saw [Marlins reliever Arquimedes] Caminero warming up in the bullpen and thought, ‘We have to do this. He might never have this happen again in his life.’”

This breathlessly swift — two hours, six minutes, the shortest Marlins game of the season — bolt of lightning put an electric finish on a six-month marathon slog. It taxed fans with 100 losses even as it teased them with the hope of young talent.

Any future no-hitters thrown by Alvarez or any Marlins pitcher, even a perfect game (no baserunners), probably will be pedestrian compared to this one. It’s the first walk-off (game ending on the winning run) complete game no-hitter since 1952.

Major League Baseball plays 2,430 games a season. So around 145,000 games have been played since the last walk-off, complete game no-hitter. Wild pitch, walk-off no hitter? It might be the first in baseball history.

Unlike most no-hitters, the Marlins couldn’t focus on it because they couldn’t get anything off Tigers ace Justin Verlander. So the game sprinted along with the question of whether this would play out like a long prank on the Marlins and their fans.

Rookie pitcher Jose Fernandez might be the National League Rookie of the Year.

Stanton, 23, finished with a .249 average, 24 home runs and 62 RBI, good numbers for the only dangerous hitter on in a light-hitting lineup.

Acrobatic shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria preserved Sunday’s no-hitter by tagging the sky to snag a third-inning line drive. It’s a once-a-season play for good defensive shortstops. He has done it twice in two weeks. Alvarez finished 5-6, the second-best record among Marlins starters behind Fernandez’s 12-6. His 95th pitch Sunday clocked in at 95 mph, heat with sexy movement.

Afterward, the Marlins poured over each other on the field and burst with joyful noises in the locker room as they lingered in the happiness for a bit.

“That attitude that you saw on the field is what we feel in the clubhouse,” said Koyie Hill, Sunday’s Marlins catcher. “I know it’s been a trying time as far as winning ball games.

“We’ve taken our share of lumps. But the attitude in this clubhouse is not of a team that’s beaten. I feel like with the group they have and the guys coming up from the minor leagues, this organization is not too far away.”

And there’s where the Marlins organization part comes in with the cloud. As Alvarez blew through — the Tigers appeared to be swinging for the charter back home and the fences, typical of a season-ending game, Hill admitted — you couldn’t help thinking how long is he going to be around?

Listening to newly promoted Marlins general manager Dan Jennings and president of baseball operations Mike Hill at their introductory news conference Sunday, a paraphrasing of The Who played in my head:

Meet the new underboss. Same as the old underboss.

We won’t get fooled again.

The Marlins fired Larry Beinfest from Hill’s current position, moved in Hill, then moved Jennings, vice president of player personnel and assistant GM, into Hill’s former job.

So what? Until there’s a new approach rolling downhill from the top, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria (conspicuous by his absence Sunday), what comes down on South Florida’s baseball faithful will continue to stink to high stadium debt.

Just look at the Tigers, whom Hill referenced as a recent World Series champion in answering a question Sunday. Anibal Sanchez, who threw the last Marlins no-hitter, watched this one from the Detroit dugout as the American League’s ERA leader. Jim Leyland managed the Fantasy Baseball Marlins to the 1997 World Series title. And American League batting champion Miguel Cabrera, once a sure thing Marlins youngster, last year put up the first Triple Crown since the Summer of Love.

Instead, Jennings admitted, “We’re never going to be one of the big payroll teams” and talked of being a sunshine version of blue-collar, scrappy Oakland or Pittsburgh.

Meaningless front-office shuffling followed by threatening to lose a no-hitter, then making baseball history with the kind of finish nobody could remember seeing.

Typical Marlins day. Except for there being no tomorrow, at least in 2013.

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