The smallest player in the majors had the biggest blast of the afternoon Sunday, and it prevented the Marlins from capping off a series sweep of the San Diego Padres.
Alexi Amarista — all 5-6 and 150 pounds of him — belted a three-run, pinch-hit home run off Nathan Eovaldi in the seventh, and the Padres held on for a 4-2 victory.
“You take away that last at-bat, and it’s a good game,” Eovaldi said. “That’s the way you’ve got to look at it, one bad at-bat.”
Said Marlins manager Mike Redmond: “I definitely didn’t see that coming.”
With the Marlins clinging to a 1-0 lead, Amarista — whose nickname is “Mighty Mouse” — was sent up to pinch-hit with two outs and two aboard in the seventh. He fouled off six pitches, four with two strikes, during a nine-pitch at-bat that culminated in his 11th major-league home run.
“Six and two-thirds [innings] and bam, he hits that,” said Eovaldi, who was not unhappy with the placement of the pitch, a slider that moved down and in on the diminutive left-hander. “He fouled off those pitches and finally got that one.”
Though they were denied the sweep, the Marlins still finished the homestand with a 5-2 record.
The Marlins didn’t get a lot done at the plate.
Giancarlo Stanton drove in his National League-leading 12th run of the season, and Jeff Baker came off the bench to knock in a run with a pinch-hit double. But the Marlins did little else offensively against Padres starter Ian Kennedy and a cast of four San Diego relievers.
Eovaldi carried a shutout into the seventh before Amarista ended the bid on the right-hander’s 100th pitch of the outing.
To top it off, the blast over the right-field wall came on Amarista’s 25th birthday.
“Instead of receiving gifts from my teammates, I was happy to give a gift after all we went through this series,” Amarista said. “Coming off the bench and seeing a lot of pitches, I felt more comfortable pitch by pitch. With two strikes, I was trying to at least get a hit to tie the game. But I got in front of the breaking ball and was able to hit it out of the park.”
The Marlins had a left-hander warming up in the bullpen at the time. But Redmond elected to stick with his starter.
“At that point of the game, with him still throwing hard, I wasn’t concerned about that at-bat,” Redmond said of Eovaldi. “[With Amarista] coming off the bench, I felt good he was going to challenge him with his fastball and make him beat him with a fastball. And he ended up getting beat there with the breaking ball.”
Eovaldi said Amarista is not someone who can be judged by his size. The pitcher said he often faced Amarista in the minors and found the pint-sized hitter to be a tough one to face.
“I’ve faced him before, and he’s got pop,” Eovaldi said. “He dominated us when I was with the Dodgers and he was with the Angels [organization]. He raked. All those guys have quick hands most of the time.”
To that point Sunday, Eovaldi had blanked the Padres on five hits while striking out eight without a walk. But after a six-game run in which the Marlins hit well and scored often, they came up nearly dry against Kennedy.
Christian Yelich tripled to lead off the fourth and scored on Stanton’s RBI single, but that was the extent of the Marlins’ output against Kennedy, who came out for a pinch-hitter (Amarista) in the seventh.
Baker trimmed the deficit to 3-2 with a two-out, pinch-hit double off Padres southpaw reliever Alex Torres in the seventh, and Marcell Ozuna followed with a deep drive to right that brought the crowd to its feet.
But right fielder Will Venable caught the ball against the wall.