They had Aroldis Chapman on the ropes.
Trailing by three runs, the Marlins loaded the bases with no outs against the Cuban closer for the Reds.
But they failed to pull off the escape act. Chapman struck out the next three batters, and the Reds held on for a 5-2 victory to take the series and send the Marlins back to Miami after a 1-4 road trip.
Another opportunity frittered away. It was the story of the trip for the Marlins, who went 5 for 35 with runners in scoring position during the five games. On Sunday, they went 1 for 11 in those situations — and that lone hit didn’t even score a run.
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Not surprisingly, the Marlins rank ahead of only two National League teams — the Reds and lowly Phillies — in hitting with runners in scoring position.
Remember, the Marlins’ lineup isn’t exactly a black hole, devoid of productive players, not with Giancarlo Stanton leading the majors in home runs and RBI and Dee Gordon hitting a robust .356. But it doesn’t always click, with Sunday providing one more example.
“You can’t count on ‘G’ every night,” manager Dan Jennings said of Stanton. “You can’t count on Dee to get three hits every night. The rest of us have to pick up the slack and do the small things.”
The Marlins scored their only runs Sunday on Stanton’s ground-ball out in the first and Justin Bour’s leadoff home run in the second. Otherwise, they came up short repeatedly when they had a chance to do some damage against Reds starter Michael Lorenzen.
They had runners at second and third with no outs in the first, but got just the one run out of it. They had runners at second and third with one out in the fourth but came up empty.
The fifth appeared promising for the Marlins when, with the score knotted at 2-2, Derek Dietrich doubled over the head of center fielder Billy Hamilton. But Gordon, who was on first, was thrown out at the plate in a disputed call. The Marlins thought catcher Brayan Pena tagged Gordon with an empty mitt while the ball was in his other hand, and they challenged the call. But the call was upheld.
“That hurt when the call was upheld,” Jennings said. “We felt that he tagged with the mitt and had the ball in the hand, so there was a little uncertainty. That’s a run right there, gives you a chance to take the lead.”
Jennings also didn’t dispute third-base coach Lenny Harris’ decision to send Gordon.
“I don’t fault Lenny at all in giving that chance,” Jennings said. “We’re going to be aggressive and utilizing Dee’s speed.”
Even after Gordon was thrown out, the Marlins still had a runner in scoring position. But Christian Yelich grounded out to third and Stanton flied out to right.
“There were some chances we had that we didn’t take advantage of,” Jennings said. “We just had some chances with men on and didn’t capitalize on those.”
Ultimately, it all caught up with the Marlins.
David Phelps, who gave up a two-run homer in the first to Todd Frazier but seemed to settle down, appeared to tire in the sixth — his pitch count climbing on a muggy afternoon — when he gave up a two-run shot to Jay Bruce. Phelps gave up three singles in a row with two outs, including an RBI single by Lorenzen that made it 5-2.
“The changeup to Bruce there, it was the right pitch,” Phelps said. “The numbers are good until they’re not. It’s frustrating.”
Then came the ninth, when the Marlins threatened.
With Chapman heaving one 100-mph fastball after another, Jeff Baker reached on a throwing error, Jeff Mathis singled and Adeiny Hechavarria walked to load the bases.
But just as quickly, it was over. Chapman struck out Donovan Solano, Gordon and Dietrich to kill the rally and preserve the victory.
“The opportunity was there,” Jennings said.