The Marlins bullpen nearly did all it needed to do to blow a three-run lead, and a Henderson Alvarez victory Friday night.
Marcell Ozuna simply didn’t let it happen.
He made not one, but two pinpoint throws to the plate in the eighth and ninth innings — including the game-clincher to get Kirk Nieuwenhuis without a bounce — as the Marlins held on to beat the Mets 3-2 in a thriller in front of 19,725 at Marlins Park.
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia made the tag of Nieuwenhuis, but hardly had to do much. It was the perfect throw to end a wild game on what many thought was going to be the game-tying sacrifice fly by Chris Young.
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“I can’t remember seeing a game decided by two great throws from the left fielder and two great tags from the catcher. That was pretty amazing,” manager Mike Redmond said.
“He did a tremendous job getting back on the ball and getting some momentum going forward. There was really only one spot where he could put that ball to win that game for us and he executed.”
The Marlins couldn’t really celebrate until after umpires reviewed the call and then confirmed it. Ozuna, who became the first Marlins outfielder to record two assists at the plate in one game since Joe Orsulak on Sept. 7, 1996, was mobbed by his teammates afterward.
“I wasn’t responding with the offense, but at the least I stayed positive and said I’ll respond with the defense,” Ozuna said. “At first I didn’t think I had a chance. I said ‘Well, I’ll throw it anyway — you never know what can happen. He might fall.’ I was just trying to do what the coaches always tell me and keep it low and thankfully it went right where it needed to.”
Closer Steve Cishek picked up his 17th save of the season, helping the Marlins (37-36) avoid falling below .500 for the first time since April 30.
“Off the bat I saw where Ozuna was going and I got pretty frustrated because I thought I made a decent pitch and I thought I blew it,” Cishek said. “I don’t know what he was doing. He went back, blew some kisses in The Clevelander, sprinted back in and hosed him at the plate. It was incredible — a mix of emotions being at an all-time low to an all-time high.“
Trailing by three in the eighth, the Mets (33-41) scored two runs off Marlins reliever Kevin Gregg and had the tying run heading home on Eric Campbell’s one-out single to left. But Ozuna made a pinpoint throw to beat David Wright to the plate.
The Mets challenged that play arguing Saltalamacchia had blocked the plate. But replays confirmed the call made by plate umpire Lance Barrett.
That made Alvarez a winner for only the fourth time this season. Alvarez, who has taken the role of ace since Jose Fernandez was lost for the season, pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings, scattered seven hits and struck out five.
For a moment, it looked like he might not get through three innings Friday. Pitching coach Chuck Hernandez and team trainers came out to visit him in the third after striking out Mets starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. After throwing one warm-up toss, Alvarez remained in the game. Redmond said Alvarez complained his hamstring had tightened up a little.
Alvarez later proved he was just fine when he fielded a high chopper by Mets leadoff man Eric Young Jr. and outran him to first base for the final out of the fifth.
Alvarez had the sixth-best home ERA of any starting pitcher at 1.62 entering Friday and lowered it to 1.44. Only the Padres’ Andrew Cashner (1.39) had better numbers entering the day.
Rafael Furcal put the Marlins up 1-0 in the first when he tripled off the right field wall and then scored on Adeiny Hechavarria’s groundout to second.
The score remained 1-0 until Jake Marisnick singled off Vic Black with one out in the seventh and then used his speed to double the Marlins’ lead. Marisnick swiped second, third and then came racing home when an errant throw by Mets catcher Anthony Recker ended up in left field.
“I think it surprised them a little bit with a left-handed hitter that he took off there, but he was being aggressive,” Redmond said. “That was a big run for us, huge run for us. That’s Jake.”
The Marlins then tacked on a huge insurance run when Wright had a two-out bouncer by Hechavarria go right through his bare hand at third and into left field, allowing Justin Bour to score easily. Hechavarria was credited with a double and an RBI.
But all anybody talked about afterward were those throws — especially the last one.
“That’s a tough throw,” Saltalamacchia said. “Big moment. You tend to do too much. He just made a perfect throw.”