He raised his arms in triumph, pounded his glove, and stood near the mound, cherishing the moment.
His greatest moment.
When he struck out Michael Taylor to seal the Marlins’ 12-1 victory over the Nationals on Sunday, Jose Urena wasn’t simply capping off the finest performance of his pitching career. He was capping off a week in which he had gone from “the most hated player in baseball” in the words of his catcher to a symbol of personal redemption.
Pitching as if on a mission, Urena turned in a complete-game masterpiece -- only the second complete game by a Marlins pitcher over the past four years and the first not involving a no-hitter since July 3, 2014, when Henderson Alvarez also went the distance.
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“You could just see the fire in his eyes,” said Marlins shortstop JT Riddle. “To have an outing like that today, after everything that’s happened, that was big for him and big for us as a team.”
It was only four days earlier in Atlanta that Urena hit Braves star rookie Ronald Acuna Jr. with his first pitch of the game. Urena was ejected and subsequently received a six-game league suspension for his actions. Urena has continued to claim he wasn’t trying to hit Acuna and is appealing his suspension.
“I know what I did and what kind of person I am,” Urena said.
When he returned to the mound Sunday for the first time since the incident, Urena was greeted with a smattering of boos from fans at Nationals Park. But it wasn’t long before he silenced the crowd, holding the Nationals to a run on only two hits.
“He dealt today,” said catcher Bryan Holaday. “He was lights out. This past week he’s probably been the most hated player in baseball, and to put that behind you is not easy to do. He went out there and showed everybody what he’s capable of.”
Urena leaned heavily on a 98- to 99-mph fastball that was a couple of ticks faster than his norm, and the Nationals could do nothing with them. A pair of doubles by Matt Wieters and Adam Eaton in the second produced the only Washington run. Urena did not give up another hit the rest of the way.
“I didn’t have to prove anything,” Urena said. “I just tried to execute my plan, have fun and show what I can do.”
Even beyond the Acuna plunking, it hasn’t been a fun year for Urena. He has gone 4-12, with the first loss coming on Opening Day when he gave up a home run to the Cubs’ Ian Happ with the very first pitch of the Major League season.
Sunday’s performance was his finest hour.
When he returned to the dugout after completing the eighth inning, Urena was at 96 pitches. Manager Don Mattingly asked him how he felt and Urena asked to continue.
“He said give me 20 (more) pitches and I said okay,” Mattingly said.
Urena needed just 12 more pitches to finish off the Nationals in the ninth and give the Marlins their first series win in Washington since the 2014 season.
Victimized by a lack of run support throughout the season, Urena received more than enough help Sunday from Marlins hitters, who pounded Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez. The Marlins totaled 17 hits in the assault, with Starlin Castro recording a career-high five hits, Isaac Galloway hitting his first big-league homer, and J.T. Realmuto and JT Riddle each going deep. The Marlins had 10 extra-base hits to equal a season high.
“The bats showed up today,” Holaday said.
Urena did, as well.
“It was really fun to watch,” said Castro, who has spent the past several days trying to console Urena. “Today he turned the page and he pitched a really good good. I’m just so proud of him.”
It’s possible Urena won’t pitch again for another week as he awaits the outcome of his appeal. Mattingly has already said he would not allow Urena to start later in the week against the Braves when Atlanta is in Miami, out of fear for possible retribution.
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