A.J. Ellis is a veteran backup catcher who doesn’t run well, and when he stepped into the batter’s box to face Max Scherzer in Wednesday’s eighth inning, the odds for him didn’t look good.
Scherzer was five outs from a no-hitter, and Ellis was hitting .189.
But by a single inch — perhaps less than that — Ellis spoiled the day for Scherzer and sparked the Marlins to a seemingly impossible 2-1 victory over the NL East frontrunners.
Ellis bounced a one-hopper up the middle that Scherzer reached up to grab. But the ball deflected off the tip of his glove, Ellis beat it out for an infield hit, and the Marlins rallied for one of their most dramatic wins of the season in front of an announced crowd of 22,659 at Marlins Park.
It was only the fourth time the Marlins won a game with two or fewer hits.
“That was the little crack left in the door for us,” Giancarlo Stanton said.
Four batters later, Stanton would deliver the only solid hit of the day off Scherzer, a scorching line-drive single to left off the tiring hurler to drive home the go-ahead run.
In taking two of three in the series with the Nationals, the Marlins rallied from a six-run deficit to emerge on top Monday and somehow managed to get past a dominating Scherzer on Wednesday.
“Max was amazing today,” Ellis said. “It was electric.”
Was he ever.
In bidding to become the fourth pitcher to no-hit the Marlins, Scherzer struck out 11 and until the eventful eighth held the Marlins to only a pair of baserunners, walking Christian Yelich in the first and hitting Derek Dietrich with a pitch in the second.
Dan Straily did his part to match strides with Scherzer and keep the Marlins in the game. Straily served up a solo homer to Ryan Raburn in the fifth but threw up zeroes for every one that Scherzer manufactured.
“Coming in today, I was hoping, thinking it was gonna be a close game, it’s gonna be a tight game all the way down to the end,” Straily said. “You just come in to these types of matchups like, alright, don’t be the first one to blink. And I was. I was the first one to blink.”
Scherzer had retired 17 in a row entering the eighth. But he had also thrown 98 pitches.
“His stuff was there,” Stanton said. “He was cruising. But it’s got to be taxing, coming up there with those high [pitch-count] numbers.”
Scherzer struck out Dietrich to begin the eighth. Then it all started falling apart for him when Ellis chugged out his infield hit that barely eluded the grasp of Scherzer.
“Straight survival, battle mode right there,” Ellis said. “I didn’t hit it extremely hard. But I hit it in the right spot, I guess.”
Ellis’ thoughts as he legged his way to first?
“As soon as it hit his glove, I said I wish I was faster,” Ellis said. “That’s about it. Just ran as hard as you could. [Then I heard] the crowd cheer. I knew something good happened for us.”
After retiring J.T. Riddle on a ground ball for the second out, Scherzer got pinch-hitter J.T. Realmuto to ground to short for what would have been the third out.
Instead, Trea Turner one-hopped a throw to Adam Lind that the first baseman was unable to field for an error. Then Scherzer hit Dee Gordon with a pitch, loading the bases and bringing up Stanton. Scherzer got ahead of Stanton in the count 1-2 before uncorking a wild pitch that enabled pinch-runner Jose Urena to race home with the tying run.
“[Stanton’s] swings really didn’t look good all day long,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “[But] I think the wild pitch kind of takes the pressure off him at that point. We’ve got it tied at that point, and Max is at 118, 119, 120 [pitches]. So his stuff’s got to be deteriorating a little bit.”
Stanton rifled a single to left that dropped just in front of Raburn, and the go-ahead run crossed the plate. Raburn threw out Gordon trying for home to end the inning — and Scherzer’s outing.
Scherzer finished at 121 pitches, five shy of his career high.
A.J. Ramos worked the ninth to close out the win and record his 10th save.
“You know that from about the fifth inning on, with a guy like Max on the mound, you know you’re only one swing away — one baserunner away — from being right back in it,” Ellis said. “You just keep grinding, keep trying to find a pitch to hit and hope something happens. And that’s usually what it takes on a day like today.”