Shortly after stepping into the Marlins clubhouse on Saturday for the first time in 10 years, Brad Penny encountered video coordinator Cullen McRae and asked him to dig deep into his celluloid archives.
“Get me the tape of my 2002 start against the Reds,” Penny joked.
As the broadcasters and beat writers who once covered Penny began trickling in, he shook their hands and ignored the taboo about a game-day pitcher talking to the press beforehand, reminiscing about days gone by and revealing that former Marlins teammate Josh Beckett sent him a text message wishing him luck.
For one night in Cincinnati, at least, it felt like 2003 all over again. Penny rose to the occasion, registering the win in a 4-3 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.
"I had butterflies, I was a little nervous," Penny admitted afterward.
Not only was it a Marlins homecoming for Penny, who began his major league career with them in 2000 and posted two World Series wins in 2003 before being traded away on July 28, 2004, it was his first appearance in a major league game of any kind in two years, his first win in three.
About the only things missing to complete the retro feel were the Marlins’ old teal uniforms and an appearance by Jack McKeon. His only former teammate from the old Marlins on hand for the comeback was Mike Redmond, and that’s only because he’s now the team’s manager.
“I told him he’s on his own tonight,” Redmond laughed after being asked whether Penny had requested his catching services, just for old time’s sake. “I told him I carried him all those years.”
Redmond acknowledged it would be a “great story” if Penny made his return a winning one.
It proved to be that.
Penny’s performance wasn’t a work of art by any means.
He gave up a first-inning home run to Jay Bruce -- the first home run allowed by the Marlins in 12 games. He walked four batters versus three strikeouts in only five innings.
"Obviously my command wasn't what it normally is," Penny said. "I was having a tough time getting the ball in the zone. But days like that, you've got to battle and keep the team in the game."
At one point, Redmond pulled Penny aside in the dugout and told him to stop nibbling with his pitches, resulting in flashbacks from their playing days when the catcher used to jump on Penny about his pitching.
"He used yell at me a lot more when he was a catcher," Penny said, smiling. "He's nice as a manager."
But Penny yielded just two runs, and one of those was unearned, the result of a Garrett Jones fielding error. When he worked out of the fourth by retiring Bruce on a ground ball with two Reds runners aboard, the burly Penny pumped his arms together in Incredible Hulk-like manner.
He pitched a 1-2-3 fifth, his final inning, and left with the score tied, 2-2. He threw 95 pitches, 54 for strikes.
The Marlins’ hitter rewarded Penny in the sixth by scoring the go-ahead runs and putting him in line for the win. Christian Yelich’s two-out sacrifice fly off Reds starter Alfredo Simon gave the Marlins a 3-2 lead. Donovan Solano’s RBI double made it 4-2.
That left it up to the bullpen to preserve the win for Penny and the Marlins. A.J. Ramos delivered two strong innings, striking out three. Bryan Morris gave up a run in the eighth, only the second earned run that he’s allowed in 32 2/3 innings since coming over to the Marlins in their trade with the Pirates.
Steve Cishek worked the ninth for his 29th save.
The result was career win No. 120 for Penny and his first big-league victory since Sept. 25, 2011, when he was a member of the Tigers. It was his 49th win as a Marlin, which moved him into a tie with A.J. Burnett for fourth on the team’s all-time list.
"I'm lucky to get another opportunity to pitch at this level," Penny said. "It's only going to get better from here."