Jeff Mathis hadn’t hit a grand slam since 2013 when his bases-loaded shot in the ninth beat the Padres.
He didn’t prolong matters this time.
With the bases loaded in the first inning on Tuesday, the light-hitting Mathis launched his first homer of the season, and the Marlins held on for a 5-2 win over the Padres.
“For me to tack on a few more right there I thought was big for us, and big for myself too,” said Mathis, who brought a .170 batting average into the game and had driven in only one run all season.
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Tom Koehler, who was making his 100th career start, turned in six strong innings as the Marlins put themselves in position — with a win on Wednesday — to cap off the road trip with a series sweep.
A victory would also give them a winning, 5-4 trip after starting out 2-4.
The first inning lasted so long, not only with the Marlins sending eight men to the plate, but also because manager Don Mattingly disputed an umpire’s call at first base and played the game under protest, as a result, that Koehler said he was “stiff” by the time he took the mound for the first time.
And not to complain too much about inheriting a five-run lead straight off the bat, but Koehler said it’s not always easy to pitch with a big lead early.
“It sounds crazy, but sometimes the hardest games to pitch are the ones where you get an early lead, because you’ve got to make sure you stick to your game plan and not just pump fastballs down the middle,” Koehler said. “The game can change quick.”
All of the Marlins’ scoring came in the first after Adeiny Hechavarria walked to start the game and scored on Chris Johnson’s infield single, which left the bases loaded for Mathis.
But the Marlins’ backup catcher got just enough of Drew Pomeranz’s 3-1 fastball, putting it just over the wall in left for the third grand slam of his career.
“I was happy to see the people catch it,” Mathis said of the fans sitting in the left field bleachers.
Mathis’ teammates were happiest of all to see their unofficial clubhouse leader come through with a big hit.
“He’s such a big part of this team, the things he does on the field and off,” Koehler said. “Everybody pulls for him overtime he comes up there, and for him to come up huge like that, everybody felt great about it.”
Said Mattingly: “You know he feels better when he’s able to contribute. To do something like that, to help the team win, it just makes you feel a lot better.”
The Marlins didn’t score again after that, not that Koehler needed any more help.
“When you get that (grand slam), obviously it’s a good start,” Mattingly said. “It sets up games that makes me the most nervous, when you have the lead and all of a sudden you don’t score the rest of the game and they keep chipping away at you.”
The Marlins mustered only three hits the rest of the way. But one, a double, belonged to slumping Giancarlo Stanton, who was back in the lineup after sitting out Monday.
Koehler matched his season high with eight strikeouts, and held the Padres to two runs on six hits.
Ichiro Suzuki, whose three hits on Monday increased his career total to 2,977 and, counting his hits in Japan, left him one shy of Pete Rose’s major league mark of 4,256, came up as a pinch-hitter in the ninth.
But he grounded weakly to first, leaving his career totals unchanged.
A.J. Ramos closed out the win for his 20th save and, going back to last season, has converted his past 29 save opportunities.