When it comes to keeping fans on the edge of their seats until the final out, nobody has done it better than the Marlins over the past 21 years.
That isn’t rhetoric. It’s fact.
Since their inaugural season in 1993, no team has played more one-run games (1,074). And only the Dodgers (562) have won more one-run games in that span than the Marlins (547).
So it should come as no surprise why this year’s team leads the majors in walk-off wins (11), one-run wins (32) and wins in its last at-bat (21). Call it a part of Marlins DNA.
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“I think that’s the beauty of our ballclub — we know it’s going to be dramatic one way or the other,” said manager Mike Redmond, whose team nearly pulled off another come-from-behind win its last at-bat Wednesday afternoon before falling to the Texas Rangers 5-4.
“Do we all wish it was easier? Of course,” Redmond continued. “But that’s not the way we roll down here. We have a flair for the dramatic, I guess.”
What the Marlins (63-63) have a flair for now is winning close games. That’s something they didn’t do enough of in 2010 (23-28), 2011 (27-32), 2012 (26-26) and last year (24-35).
The Marlins entered an off day Thursday with the best winning percentage in the majors in one-run games (.627) and with eight more one-run victories than the next closest team — the AL East-leading Orioles (24-18).
History says teams that have won at least 32 one-run games in a season have gone on to do some special things.
Of the 22 previous teams that have had at least 32 one-run victories since 1993, a dozen made the playoffs, two won the World Series (2005 White Sox and 1997 Marlins) and seven reached the League Championship Series. Only one of those 22 teams finished with a losing record: the 2000 Marlins, who wound up third in the NL East at 79-82.
“I don’t know if there was a specific moment where we learned how to win those close games, but I feel like going through those struggles at the beginning of the year kind of created a toughness factor for us,” said left fielder Christian Yelich, who along with third baseman Casey McGehee, All-Star right fielder Giancarlo Stanton, center fielder Marcell Ozuna and pinch-hitter Jeff Baker have each delivered two walk-off hits this season.
“Guys feel comfortable playing close games and ones that go down to the wire,” Yelich continued. “I feel that’s normal for us. All of our games feel like they are decided by one run or two runs. It’s close until the end. We don’t panic. It’s just another day, another game for us — especially if we’re at home. If we’re tied or down by one, we feel like we’ve got them right where we want them.”
The Marlins’ front office pointed to that very issue in the offseason and believed that bringing in a collection of veterans like Baker, McGehee, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, first baseman Garrett Jones and outfielder Reed Johnson would create a different attitude in the clubhouse and pay off late in games.
So far, the stats suggest it was a good idea. In close and late situations (the seventh inning or later with the batting team ahead by one, tied, or with the tying run on base, at bat or on deck) no team has produced more runs than the Marlins (116). Last year, Miami was tied with the Astros for last with 86 runs scored in close and late situations.
Only three Marlins hit better than .250 in close and late situations last year: Ed Lucas (.319, 5 RBI), Ozuna (.288, 6 RBI) and Logan Morrison (.254, 4 RBI).
This year, six Marlins are hitting better than .265 in close and late situations: Johnson (.319, 1 HR, 8 RBI), McGehee (.316, 15 RBI), Ozuna (.291, 5 HRs, 14 RBI), Yelich (.288, 8 RBI), shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (.269, 7 RBI) and Stanton (.265, 5 HRs, 17 RBI).
“That’s really what being a veteran is about,” Johnson said. “Staying within yourself, harnessing those emotions and just trying to do what you can to give us the best chance to win. Nobody has really sat here and talked about it as a group, but I think the younger guys can see what’s going on, and they learn through example.”
Stanton certainly has. He hit .227 in late and close situations last year. Of his 12 hits, seven were home runs — a sign he was trying to do too much.
His walk-off single to right field in Tuesday’s win over the Rangers was a sign of maturity and growth.
“We’ve had good chemistry since spring training and we just continue to stay loose and have fun in here,” Stanton said. “And we’re not afraid to make it interesting I’ll tell you that.”
: Marlins RHP Henderson Alvarez (9-5, 2.43 ERA) at Colorado Rockies LHP Franklin Morales (5-6, 5.04), 8:40 p.m., Coors Field.
: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (9-9, 3.82) at Rockies RHP Jordan Lyles (6-1, 4.01), 8:10 p.m., Coors Field.