Miami Marlins

They’re last in the NL, but scrappy Marlins show they’re ‘not going to quit playing’

Miami Marlins Garrett Cooper (26) runs past New York Mets catcher Wilson Ramos (40) to score after Cooper hit the Marlins second home run in the third inning at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, Friday, July, 12, 2019.
Miami Marlins Garrett Cooper (26) runs past New York Mets catcher Wilson Ramos (40) to score after Cooper hit the Marlins second home run in the third inning at Marlins Park in Miami, Florida, Friday, July, 12, 2019.

Manager Don Mattingly huddled his team together before the Miami Marlins went to the field for their first game after the All-Star Break.

The first half of the season didn’t go how they wanted. A 33-55 record that is tough to swallow for any team, even one in the second year of a rebuild.

But despite going into the break in last in the National League East and with the fifth-worst record in baseball, Mattingly had never doubted his team’s fight. Even in games where rally attempts came up short, Mattingly has praised his group for not backing down.

The goal now is to finish strong.

“All those games that we’ve been in this year, let’s win them this time around,” veteran outfielder Curtis Granderson said Mattingly told the group.

Their first win of that variety came Friday, when the Marlins quickly rebounded from an early two-run deficit to defeat the New York Mets 8-4 at Marlins Park. Miami used three home runs and five total extra base hits, as well as six quality innings from starter Caleb Smith, to cruise to the win.

“We get behind, but we definitely don’t give up,” said Granderson, whose two-run home run in the bottom of the third gave the Marlins the lead for good.

The team’s gritty nature has been on display all season, even if the final result has them 21 games under .500 and five games behind the Mets for fourth in the NL East heading into Saturday’s game.

The Marlins (34-55) have played 31 games decided by no more than two runs, going 13-18 in those contests.

They have 16 wins in which they came from behind or won in extra innings. There have been big moments spread throughout those contests.

There’s Garrett Cooper’s go-ahead grand slam against the Detroit Tigers, one day after Chad Wallach hit a go-ahead double for an 11th-inning win.

There’s JT Riddle’s 11th-inning home run against the St. Louis Cardinals, which set the stage for Sergio Romo’s game-winning pickoff at second base in the bottom half of the inning.

There’s Wilkin Castillo’s go-ahead double against the Philadelphia Phillies in his first MLB game in 10 years.

And then there were the games where the Marlins did what they do best — scratch and claw to drive runs in. On many occasions, the Marlins’ go-ahead run has come from something as simple as an RBI groundout, fielder’s choice or sacrifice fly. Trade an out for a run. With this team, sometimes that’s all it takes.

“The guys have shown they’re not going to quit playing,” Mattingly said.

But each of those close wins or surprising comebacks has been matched by a late collapse or inability to overcome an early deficit.

The Marlins have either held the lead or were tied through the sixth inning of 14 of their 51 losses this year. Miami has been walked off on six times this season — twice by the Chicago Cubs on back-to-back days, twice by the Atlanta Braves, and once each by the Cardinals and Braves. The Marlins are 3-5 in extra-inning games.

Only eight of their 24 losses have been by more than three runs. For comparison, the Marlins went 10-31 start the season. Nine of those 31 losses were by at least five runs.

“If the guys in here don’t understand how talented we really are, it’s very obvious to me as a veteran player,” Walker said earlier this season. “You learn as time goes along, especially as young players, how to soften the big innings, and how to push the envelope when you need to. That happens naturally.”

The Marlins have shown that over the last two months, playing .500 ball (24-24) over their last 48 games.

“We’re growing as a family, not a team,” catcher Jorge Alfaro said. “We’re a family here, and we are growing together.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.