The Marlins are in unfamiliar territory, and rather enjoying it.
Here it is July and they’re winning games and climbing the standings, contenders for the first time in years. They won again on Tuesday, knocked off the Phillies in extra innings for the second night in a row.
This time it was Christian Yelich and a cast of five pitchers who did the job. Yelich drove in both runs, including the deciding run in the 10th, in the Marlins 2-1 victory over the Phillies.
“You’ve got to win those close ones, games like tonight and last night,” said Yelich, who also hit a solo homer in the fourth. “We know we’re going to have to continue to do that through the second half if we want to go where we think we’re headed.”
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At 51-42, the Marlins are nine games over .500 for the first time since May 31, 2011. They closed to within 4 1/2 games of first-place Washington.
But manager Don Mattingly said it’s no time to pop the champagne corks.
“I’m always careful with that, because I just know how things change so fast,” Mattingly said. “You pay attention to the season. There’s still lots and lots of games left. There are still streaks where you lose a few in a row. You can’t get riding too high. But obviously you got to like the feeling you get when you’re playing well.”
The Marlins are certainly doing that at the moment.
They’ve won seven of their past eight games, including four of five on the road trip. They’ve pushed past the New York Mets into second place, and are trying to sneak up on the Nationals.
“When you start to win a little bit, they start to talk about you,” said closer A.J. Ramos, who recorded his 31st save.
The Marlins weren’t sure what to expect when they called up Jose Urena from Triple-A New Orleans to make Tuesday’s start. With no better alternatives to serve as their fifth starter, the Marlins were hoping Urena could give them an adequate outing.
He did better than that.
Urena allowed only one run, a solo homer by Tommy Joseph, while pitching into the sixth. He struck out five while walking just one.
“That was huge for us,” Mattingly said of Urena. “We’ve been looking for that five guy to give us quality innings.”
Throw in the fact four Marlins reliever also did their job, and the result was a second-straight extra-inning win in as many nights. The Marlins bullpen has given up just one in a total of 8 1/3 innings over the two games.
The problem Tuesday for the Marlins wasn’t their pitching. It was their hitting. For the second straight night, they didn’t do much of anything against the Phillies’ starter.
On Monday it was Aaron Nola. Tuesday it was Vince Velasquez who held them at bay. The Marlins managed just one run off Velasquez, and that was a solo homer by Yelich in the fourth.
Otherwise, the lineup didn’t do much of anything early. The Marlins managed only two other hits off Velasquez in seven innings.
But Adeiny Hechavarria doubled to lead off the 10th before scoring on Yelich’s two-out single off Phillies reliever Daniel Stumpf. Ramos closed it out for the Marlins.
“Sometimes you need to find ways to win games in different ways,” Yelich said. “Our pitchers did a great job the last couple of days. We haven’t really been able to push many runs across. But they threw the ball well and kept us in the game.”
Said Ramos of the Marlins’ hot streak: “Hopefully we’ll play in a lot more close games and win them. Obviously it feels good. But that can all go to pieces the next nine games.”