Don Mattingly emerged from Miami’s clubhouse for his postgame news conference with the “Cupid Shuffle” echoing through the halls and fog hanging in the air. After a week of close losses, his team could finally celebrate.
That was thanks to Tyler Moore, who smacked a decisive, pinch-hit three-run home run in the seventh inning in Miami’s 3-1 sweep-avoiding victory over Atlanta on Sunday afternoon at Marlins Park. His homer prompted lights from the team’s center-field home run sculpture and lights in the clubhouse later on.
“I was happy the equipment still works,” closer A.J. Ramos said of the music, smoke and light machines in Miami’s clubhouse. “I think we’re gonna be using it a lot more.”
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The win moved the Marlins (14-22) out of last place by percentage points in the National League East, sending the Braves (13-21) there in Miami’s place.
But early on, it looked like the Marlins were doomed to slip further into a deficit. In the first inning, for example, with two men on and two outs, Giancarlo Stanton was called out on strikes, ending Miami’s threat.
Then in the third inning, it looked like Miami’s luck was changing. Following a Christian Yelich single, Marcell Ozuna grounded one just under the reach of Atlanta shortstop Dansby Swanson, who slowed it up enough for Yelich to get to third.
But then came Justin Bour, who didn’t even leave the batter’s box on his inning-ending groundout to first.
And in the fifth inning, Miami starter Justin Nicolino looked like he was going to get out of trouble. After putting two men on to start the inning, he struck out Freddie Freeman and got Matt Kemp to fly out.
But then Nick Markakis sliced a ball to left field, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.
Before the game, Marlins shortstop J.T. Riddle acknowledged the team just hasn’t been having any luck lately.
“It’s just not going our way right now,” he said. “But things are gonna turn.”
Things turned on Sunday with Moore’s home run, which was set up by a Stanton double and an A.J. Ellis walk. On a day when the Marlins had just five hits, with two of them coming from left fielder Ozuna, Moore’s homer off Atlanta starter R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball led to a chorus of cheers and a collective sigh of relief, both from fans and from Miami’s dugout.
“You’re just wanting to at least get it tied up, but all of a sudden you have a two-run lead,” Mattingly said. “It was a good feeling.”
On the mound, Nicolino went six innings, allowing one run and striking out five. He ultimately got a no-decision in his first major-league action of 2017 after being recalled from Triple A New Orleans to start for the Marlins.
From there, relievers Kyle Barraclough (1-0), David Phelps and Ramos held the Braves scoreless.
The game was especially meaningful for Ramos, whose mother, Cynthia, was sitting behind home plate on Mother’s Day.
“I don’t like to watch her because then I get nervous,” Ramos said.
But Ramos had no problem with nerves on Sunday in his one inning of work. He shut down the Braves in the ninth, earning his fourth save of the season and his first since April 22. After the game, he walked over to his mom and gave her the winning ball.
“She deserves it,” he said. “She put in a lot of work to get me here.”
Throughout Miami’s recent bad stretch, during which the Marlins have lost 14 of their past 18 games and five games in a row before Sunday, Mattingly has been preaching a message of unity. The season is early, he has said, and his team is still in it if the players don’t give up.
That attitude showed in the clubhouse before Sunday’s game, when injured third baseman Martin Prado walked around the locker room and greeted every single player.
But Mattingly said that after having to offer that advice every day for the past week, it was nice to avoid it on Sunday.
“It feels good,” he said, “even for myself.”