On a day when All-Star slugger Giancarlo Stanton was back home in Miami having his right knee sliced open on a surgical table, the Marlins closed out the first half of their season with another punch-to-the-gut blown save by closer Heath Bell.
But that wasn’t the only punch that hurt in Sunday’s 5-4 loss to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
Third baseman Hanley Ramirez — mired in another long slump at the plate — punched a cooling fan in the Marlins dugout after grounding out in the sixth inning. It forced Ramirez out of the game, forced him to get two stitches on the knuckle above his right ring finger, and forced him to watch as his replacement, rookie Donovan Solano, struck out with the bases loaded to end the top of the ninth.
Instead of feeling good and pulling to within a game under .500, the Marlins (41-44) enter the All-Star break nine games behind the first-place Washington Nationals and with questions about not only their troubled closer, but also where they will get their offense with their home run and RBI leader out for the next four to six weeks.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I’ve been disappointed since the [season] started," said manager Ozzie Guillen, who blasted Ramirez for his “stupidity’’ and hinted there could be a change at the back end of his bullpen when the team returns to action Friday.
“I think we’re a better ballclub than what we show out there,’’ Guillen said. “I think we’re fighting, we’re doing everything we can to get better. But the results are very bad. I’m very confused, very sad to see a team like this go through this day in and day out. It’s hard to watch.’’
The Marlins took a 4-2 lead in the seventh Sunday when Austin Kearns came off the bench and drilled a three-run home run off reliever Victor Marte. It was the seventh pinch-hit home run this season for Miami and just the second hit by Kearns (2 for 27) since returning from the disabled list.
But Kearns’ big home run and six solid innings from starter Anibal Sanchez, who gave up just five hits and two earned runs without a walk, wasn’t enough to propel the Marlins to the victory.
Failing in the ninth
Bell replaced Steve Cishek, who picked up the final out in the eighth, and came totally unraveled after he struck out Carlos Beltran to open the ninth. Bell gave up two hits and a walk to load the bases with one out before Tony Cruz lifted a sacrifice fly to left to make it 4-3. Daniel Descalso then battled back from an 0-2 count and through a 10-pitch at-bat to load the bases again on a walk.
Cardinals shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal then won the game when he sent a bouncer through the hole into left field. David Freese scored the winning run when he beat Logan Morrison’s throw to the plate.
“I feel like I’ve let the whole organization down,’’ said Bell, who already has more blown saves with the Marlins than in either of his two previous seasons in San Diego. “I’m the reason we’re 10 games back, plain and simple. I’ve had the worst first half I’ve ever had, and I think all my teammates can definitely blame me. If I had been doing my job, we’d be right in the hunt."
Bell has blown a major league-leading six saves this season and has an ERA of 6.75. H has been handed a lead a handful of other times this season and has failed to protect it. He just wasn’t always charged for a blown save.
“I stand behind him, but on another hand he’s got to be better than that. He is better than that,’’ Guillen said. “If he doesn’t get better, I will find a solution because I just get tired to watch this, very disappointing to watch this every day. I try to give this kid confidence, hopes, but you get to the point where we have to win some games.
“... I have to make a decision, a solution, it will be drastic. But I will do it. We’ll wait until the All-Star break, and I will pick whoever is better out there to do the job.’’
Said Bell: “That’s Ozzie’s decision. He’s had my back and I like Ozzie as a manager. But he has to do ... the right thing for the team.’’
As for Ramirez, the Marlins expect he’ll be ready to go Friday. He finished 2 for 22 on the road trip.
“Very stupid injury, very immature,’’ an angry Guillen said. “You’re going to hurt yourself because you can’t hit? Good hitters don’t do that. Good hitters battle back and try to get better. Your injury doesn’t just hurt yourself, you hurt your ballclub.’’
Ramirez, who came into the season with high expectations, is hitting .248 with 12 homers and 44 RBI entering the break.
“I got mad,” Ramirez said of why he punched the cooling fan. “I think its starting to bother me because I know we can do better than this.’’