The Marlins survived quite nicely without Dee Gordon.
They went 45-35 during the time the National League’s reigning batting and stolen base champion was serving his 80-game drug suspension.
But they far prefer it when Gordon is in the lineup creating havoc, piling up singles and steals, scoring runs, providing Gold Glove defense and sparking wins. It’s the reason they gave him a $50 million contract extension last winter.
On Saturday night, he showed why in the Marlins’ 6-4 victory over the Braves at Marlins Park.
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Gordon reached base four times, stole three bases, scored a pair of runs and helped the Marlins get past a last-place team that’s given them migraines.
“You never know what day’s your day, and today happened to be my day,” Gordon said.
It was the Gordon the Marlins remember from a year ago, and the player they haven’t seen nearly enough of this season. Not only was Gordon absent for two months, but he hasn’t been nearly the sparkplug they were envisioning.
“Obviously, this year’s been a different year,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Gordon. “We don’t know what the impact of what just mentally having to deal with all this had. I think it had a lot to do with the type of season he’s had.”
Going into Friday’s game, Gordon had an on-base percentage of .290, the lowest figure of any leadoff hitter in the National League. Because he walks so seldom, Gordon’s value is minimal if he doesn’t hit.
“When Dee’s able to get on and be able to kind of impact it, it puts pressure on the pitcher, it puts pressure on the defense,” Mattingly said. “You really want your leadoff hitter to get on base, whether it’s walks or hits.”
On Saturday, he did both.
Gordon walked to start the bottom of the first, stole second and scored on Derek Dietrich’s two-run homer. In the third, he singled, stole third and scored on Giancarlo Stanton’s groundball out.
Gordon singled and stole second in the fourth, and he walked in the sixth.
Despite all that, the Marlins still had to fight their way past the surging Braves who, despite their cellar-dwelling spot in the NL East, brought a seven-game winning streak into Saturday and had defeated the Marlins in 11 of their 17 meetings this season.
Wei-Yin Chen, making his second start since returning from the disabled list, gave up a run in each of the first two innings and lasted just four before being removed for a pinch-hitter.
After that, it became a cattle call of relievers for the Marlins.
The Marlins took a 5-2 lead into the sixth when former Brave Hunter Cervenka gave up a leadoff homer to Freddie Freeman, who extended his hitting streak to 28 games. In the seventh, struggling reliever Fernando Rodney walked the first batter he faced, Mallex Smith, and eventually uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Smith to score, making it 5-4.
But the Marlins scored an insurance run in their half of the seventh on an RBI infield hit by J.T. Realmuto, and A.J. Ramos pitched the ninth for the save.
Gordon believes next season he’ll be the player he was in 2015. Mattingly thinks so, too.
“I think we’ll see a better version of Dee from the standpoint of more consistency,” Mattingly said.
Said Gordon: “It’s been up and down [this season]. I think it’ll be better.”