Lewis Brinson was back in the lineup. Martin Prado was back in the lineup.
And Wei-Yin Chen was back on the mound at Marlins Park, perhaps the key ingredient in a sure-thing recipe for a Miami victory Saturday.
Except, for those still paying attention to this lost season for the Marlins, no lead is ever safe, not after an excruciating series of three straight blown-lead losses in which the bullpen had given up 20 runs -- yes, 20 runs -- in the short time frame of 6 2/3 innings entering Saturday’s interleague showdown with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Would a 6-1 lead going into the ninth hold up?
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Chen all but made sure it did, covering eight innings and leaving it to Tayron Guerrero to pitch a nervous ninth as the Marlins ended a four-game losing skid with a 6-3 win over the Blue Jays. Guerrero gave up a pair of runs in the ninth on a two-run shot by Justin Smoak, who was Friday’s hero for the Blue Jays with a grand slam in the ninth off Drew Steckenrider.
But he survived the inning.
With both Brinson and Prado returning to the lineup after extensive stays on the disabled list and Chen performing his usual magic in his home ballpark, where he is now 5-3 with a 1.77 ERA, the Marlins opened the season’s final month with a win.
Brinson beat out an infield single his first time up, Prado cleared the bases with a three-run double, and Chen (6-9) became the Marlins’ first six-game winner by holding the Blue Jays to a run on three hits. Chen struck out seven and did not issue a walk.
“I probably feel the best I’ve felt in the past two or three years,” said Chen, who has battled arm injuries during each of his three seasons with the Marlins but is pitching better than he ever has during his time in Miami.
Chen has given up two runs or fewer in four of his past five starts and has gone 3-1 with a 1.44 ERA in that span.
“He’s been really good for a while,” said manager Don Mattingly. “It’s just good to see the confidence in him. You can feel the trust from our end that he’s healthy. We’re seeing the guy we thought we had a couple of years back before all this elbow stuff went down.”
Chen threw 107 pitches Saturday, two shy of his season high, leaving Mattingly with little choice but to take him out after the eighth and entrust the five-run lead to his shaky bullpen. Mattingly said he didn’t give the decision a second thought despite the bullpen’s recent woes.
“I couldn’t do that to him,” Mattingly said. “This guy’s been pitching so good you’re not going to try to be up to 120 with him this time of year and where we’re at. We’re really happy with what’s going on with him and to jeopardize that doesn’t make a lot of sense, even though we’ve had our struggles out there to end the game.”
The lineup had a new look, with not only Brinson and Prado returning, but also with JT Riddle leading off. The formula worked as, for the first time this season, the Marlins ran their streak of scoring at least five runs to four straight games. Then again, they lost the first three of those, all thanks to a bullpen that has gone belly up.
Riddle reached base three times and scored twice, Prado drove in three runs while also making the start at first base, and J.T. Realmuto clubbed his career-high 18th home run.
“It was huge, personally and for the team,” Prado said of his bases-loaded double. “It ended up being those three runs were big runs.”
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