The kid from Kentucky suffered momentary memory loss while rounding the bases. His mind was a blank and his heart was racing, and J.T. Riddle couldn’t hear the cheering.
On a day when the Marlins flirted with a combined no-hitter that nearly dissolved into disaster, Riddle saved the day in the ninth with a two-out home run — his first major-league homer, at that — to carry Miami to a 4-2 victory over the New York Mets.
“It was an amazing feeling, something you dream of as a kid,” Riddle said of his jaunt.
The Marlins on Sunday fell four outs short of a no-hitter. They lost a 16-inning marathon on Thursday to start the series. But, in the end, they closed out the series by taking three in a row from the Mets in games they sent out aces Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey.
“That’s one of the most exciting series I’ve ever been a part of,” said Marlins reliever Brad Ziegler, who gave up a two-out single in the eighth to Neil Walker to ruin the no-hit bid. “It’s still April. A lot can happen. But hopefully we’ll be playing October baseball and we can look back at the way we started here and understand it helped catapult us down the road.”
A dull series with the Mets it was not. The first three games were each decided by one run and Sunday’s outcome came down to the final at-bat of the ninth when Riddle, who has been in the majors for a week and whose only hit in 10 previous at-bats was a check-swing infield squibber, powered an 0-1 fastball to the seats in right-center.
“I knew I got it pretty good,” Riddle said. “[But] I didn’t know if it was going to get out. I didn’t even see it go out.”
For seven innings Sunday, the tension grew as Marlins pitchers — starting with Dan Straily — held the Mets hitless. Straily walked five batters, so it wasn’t the prettiest of gems. But the Mets were unable to do anything with their bats.
“Effectively wild,” Straily said of his performance.
Straily received some spectacular defensive help from Marcell Ozuna, who climbed the wall in left on Wilmer Flores’ deep fly ball in the fifth, held on to the top of the padding and came up with the catch.
With one out in the sixth, though, Straily ran out of gas. He walked consecutive batters and with his pitch count up to 93, manager Don Mattingly brought in rookie left-hander Jarlin Garcia to face two big Mets left-handers in Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda.
Garcia struck out Bruce on a 3-2 slider and got Duda on a fly ball to keep the no-hitter intact. Kyle Barraclough worked a perfect seventh before turning the ball over to Ziegler, who retired his first two batters.
But the no-hit bid ended when Walker lined a sharp single up the middle.
Now it simply became a matter of protecting a 2-0 lead, which was all the runs the Marlins could muster off Harvey — though they had two runners thrown out at the plate on close plays.
With regular closer A.J. Ramos unavailable because of his recent workload, Mattingly handed the ninth to David Phelps. That’s when the Mets rallied for two runs to tie it.
But in the bottom of the ninth Ozuna singled to start the inning. One out later, Miguel Rojas doubled into left-center. Ozuna was waved home, but a perfect relay throw by Mets shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera beat him to the plate and Ozuna was out.
That brought up Riddle.
“We were just hoping for anything right there,” Mattingly said. “A hit would have been fine.”
The rookie said Dee Gordon approached him just before the at-bat and told him to relax before giving him a bit of extra advice.
“He said the ball’s going to cut into you, cut right into your barrel,” Riddle said of his conversation with Gordon. “[He said] just try to relax up there and try to put the barrel on it.”
The ball got all barrel.
“I don’t think I remember [anything running] from home to third,” Riddle said of his home run trot. “And then I saw Dee run out on the field and everyone waiting at the plate. It was an unbelievable feeling.”