Miami Marlins starting pitcher Zac Gallen watched as St. Louis Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter drilled a fastball toward the left-field wall. The ball carried for 374 feet, making it to the warning track at Busch Stadium before it landed safely in Harold Ramirez’s glove.
Just like that, Gallen had retired the first batter of his MLB career.
“That first one, Carpenter hit it about as far as you could without going out,” Gallen said. “After that, I said, ‘All right. Now we can go.’ “
It was the start of an all-around strong debut on Thursday — and it came against none other than the team that drafted him three years ago and sent him to the Marlins as part of the Marcell Ozuna trade.
And while the bullpen imploded and allowed the Cardinals to force extra innings, the Marlins offense rallied to secure a 7-6 win in 11 innings to split the four-game road series and back up Gallen’s debut.
The game-winner: JT Riddle’s two-run home run in the top of the 11th off Cardinals reliever Andrew Miller. Sergio Romo held the Cardinals to one run in bottom half of the inning to earn his 13th save of the season. Romo picked off pinch-runner Jack Flaherty at second base to end the game.
“It was a crazy one,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said.
And it was one the Marlins (27-46) were able to compete in thanks Gallen’s composure in his first major-league start on the mound.
Gallen, the Marlins’ No. 18 prospect according to MLBPipeline, became the third starting pitcher since 1995 to make his MLB debut against the team that drafted and signed him.
He made sure the Cardinals felt his presence early.
The 6-1, 196-pound righty retired the side in the first inning, albeit needing 20 pitches to get the job done. He closed the frame with back-to-back strikeouts against Paul DeJong and Paul Goldschmidt.
He held the Cardinals (38-36) scoreless for four innings, stranding four runners in the process. His lone run surrendered came in the fifth, when DeJong hit a two-out double to left field that scored pitcher Adam Wainwright from first. He worked himself out of that fifth inning by getting Ozuna to fly out to shallow right field.
Ozuna went 0 for 3 against Gallen — all flyouts.
Gallen’s final line: One earned run allowed on five hits and two walks with six strikeouts in a no-decision. He threw 99 pitches with 61 strikes.
“Zac was pretty good,” Mattingly said. “I think we misplayed that ball in the corner [in the fifth inning] a little bit. He has a chance to get out of that with no runs. It seemed like a lot of pitches. He had to battle to get through innings.”
Gallen, whose hardest thrown pitch on Thursday clocked in at 94.3 mph, relied heavily on effectively sequencing four pitches and commanding the strike zone.
Eight of Gallen’s 15 outs came on his slider, which he threw 38 times and had velocity ranging from 78 to 88 mph. His fastball averaged 92.7 mph and his change-up was steadily in the mid-80’s. Gallen also threw seven curveballs.
“We kept them on their toes,” Gallen said.
The offense gave Gallen enough run support to back up his debut — and came through on multiple occasions after the Cardinals rallied back into the game. The Marlins opened scoring in the fourth when Starlin Castro’s two-out RBI double drove in Garrett Cooper, who hit a double of his own two batters earlier. Cooper, who is now on a 12-game hitting streak, left the game in the fifth with left triceps tightness and is day-to-day.
The Marlins added two more runs in the fifth on a Brian Anderson RBI double and Cesar Puello bases-loaded hit-by-pitch. A Miguel Rojas RBI single in the seventh scored Curtis Granderson, who reached second on an Ozuna fielding error to lead off the inning, before the Cardinals began their rally.
St. Louis scored two runs on four hits in the seventh off Wei-Yin Chen and Nick Anderson to cut the Marlins’ lead to one before Jose Quijada got out of the inning. Brian Anderson hit a solo home run to lead off the eighth to give the Marlins some breathing room before Tommy Edman tied the game with a two-run home run to center field off Tayron Guerrero in the eighth to ultimately force extras for the second consecutive night.
A scoreless 10th paved the way for Riddle’s heroics, a 399-foot home run to right field to give the Marlins a two-run advantage.
“It felt good,” Riddle said.
The Cardinals cut the lead in half when Yadier Molina’s two-out RBI double off Romo scored Jose Martinez from first. Flaherty, a starting pitcher, came in to pinch run for Molina and Romo nailed him with a quick pick-off attempt to seal the win.