The Florida Panthers had the “Year of the Rat” in 1996 when they reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
Could this become the “Year of the Cat” for the Marlins?
On a night when a gray cat somehow found its way onto the field, climbed the outfield wall and hopped into the Home Run Sculpture, the Marlins came out an 8-4 winner over Atlanta in their home opener.
Marcell Ozuna belted two homers and drove in six runs. Ozuna said he couldn’t help but think of Jose Fernandez, his friend and teammate who died in a boating accident at the end of last season.
“Today, when I stepped on the line I thought of him,” Ozuna said. “I really felt his presence today. Every time I was out there on defense I felt like he was out there supporting me.”
Ozuna said the performance reminded him of Opening Day in 2014 when he went 3 for 4 with a homer and Fernandez was on the mound to get the win.
“I felt proud thinking about it because that day someone that was more than a brother to me was out there pitching,” Ozuna said.
But Ozuna, nicknamed “Oso” (bear), had to share the spotlight with the cat.
Ozuna connected on a three-run homer in the third off Braves starter Bartolo Colon. Just after he launched his second homer, a two-run shot to left in the fifth, the feline entered stage right on the warning track in front of the Marlins bullpen.
A stadium worker and Giancarlo Stanton tried to cajole the cat out of its hiding spot, but it scampered off to center, climbed the wall, jumped into the base of the sculpture, and remained there.
“I wasn’t going to touch it,” said Marlins center fielder Christian Yelich. “It was pretty scared. The last thing you want to do is grab it and it claws you up.”
The motorized sculpture was turned off to protect the cat.
It was all in a night’s fun for the announced crowd of 35,619, which saw the Marlins improve to 4-3 — with some cat escapades thrown in for extra measure.
Dan Straily picked up his first win as a Marlin. While Straily gave up three runs over five innings, only two were earned, the result of his first Major League fielding error in the fifth.
All 80 runs that Straily gave up last year for the Reds were earned.
“I felt right at home, honestly,” Straily said of his first start with the Marlins in their home ballpark. “It was a great atmosphere here tonight.”
Straily didn’t strike out a batter in his Marlins debut last week in Washington. But he fanned five on Tuesday, including two in each the first and second innings.
“Surprisingly enough, I think the thing that confused me the most about my start in Washington was the lack of a strikeout,” he said. “That’s the first time ever in my career that I had a start without a strikeout.”
He received plenty of run support.
The Marlins struck for three runs in the first off Colon, then tacked on three more in the third on Ozuna’s first home run.
The Braves’ Nick Markakis hit a solo shot off Straily in the fourth and the Braves added two more runs in the fifth when the Marlins’ pitcher struggled with his command, hitting a batter (former Reds teammate Brandon Phillips) and walking two more.
But Ozuna gave the Marlins some breathing room with his second homer. Ozuna also drove in a run in the first with a sacrifice fly. His six RBI marked a new career high.
“I always think about my brother Jose and the adversity he overcame,” Ozuna said. “Every time I’m at the plate, I do it for my family, and for Jose Fernandez.”