Pete Carroll thought Giancarlo Stanton would make an outstanding receiver coming out of high school and offered him a scholarship to play football at USC.
On Wednesday night, in the same place the Orange Bowl once stood, the 6-6, 240-pound right fielder reminded everyone why.
With two outs, the bases loaded and the Marlins clinging to two-run lead in the fifth inning, Stanton sprinted a good 30 yards to his right, fully extended his body and his glove, and snared Cody Asche’s line drive headed toward the right-center-field gap.
The diving catch saved three runs and changed the direction of the game, as the Marlins went on to score eight runs between the seventh and eighth to pull away from the Phillies in a 14-5 victory at Marlins Park.
“It was definitely super important,” Stanton said of the catch. “Best ever? I don’t know. I have to look at the tapes. Best moment for sure because they would have scored two or three there. If you hit a two- or three-run homer it’s the same feeling. To do it on the defensive side, tonight, is huge on a night like tonight when I go 0 for 4.”
Marcell Ozuna, who came in hitting only .140 (8 for 57) in May, had one of those big hits for the Marlins (24-23).
He crushed his first career grand slam in the seventh off reliever Jeff Manship, a line-drive shot that landed above The Clevelander bar in left field. The slam provided some valuable cushion because the Phillies (20-23) scored a pair of runs off Carter Capps on Domonic Brown’s two-run home run in the eighth.
The 14 runs were a season high for the Marlins, who improved to a majors-best 18-6 at home. Christian Yelich had three of the team’s 14 hits and two RBI. Ozuna’s five RBI were a career high.
“When I saw the pitch, I said, ‘I got it. Let me not make a mistake.’ Just make contact,” Ozuna said. “Sometimes, they throw me the pitch I like and I miss it — foul ball, ground ball, fly ball, out. Sometimes I see the ball I’m looking for, and I don’t swing. But [Wednesday] I was able to swing the bat.”
Every Marlins starting position player had a hit except Stanton and starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi.
The Marlins don't have All-Star Jose Fernandez around to pitch every fifth day anymore. But they’ve still got one of the best young players in the game that can lift them to victories even when his bat is struggling.
On Wednesday, what the Marlins did defensively was just as vital as what they did with their bats. Eovaldi battled his way through six innings, giving up 10 hits, three runs (one earned) on 110 pitches.
A sliding catch by Ozuna in center saved a run in the third. And then a double play with the bases loaded — fielded by Eovaldi and turned by shortstop Ed Lucas at second base — kept the Phillies from taking the lead in the fourth.
But it was Stanton’s catch that proved to be the difference.
“He feels good. He’s strong and healthy,” manager Mike Redmond said. “I think that’s big for him compared to last year. I think you see that in his mobility out there. He takes a lot of pride in his defense. You can see that by the way he works in pregame.”
After his grab, Stanton received a standing ovation from the paid crowd of 18,257, and then some love from Eovaldi.
The 24-year-old right-hander waited for his teammate outside the Marlins dugout with a high-five and a slap on the backside.
Since the Marlins left his hometown of Los Angeles on May 14, Stanton has gone just 3 for 20 over his past six games.
On Wednesday, he went hitless in four at-bats with a walk, but he did drive in his majors-leading 44th run on a groundout to second in the third.
Redmond has had the call go his way in nine consecutive challenges since having his first attempt denied.