Nothing was working for A.J. Ramos.
His fastball was “flying out,” his changeup was “out of the zone” and his slider was “hit and miss.”
That’s why, as the roof was caving in on him and the Marlins in the ninth inning on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, Ramos didn’t want to walk Anthony Rizzo intentionally to load the bases.
Ramos knew there would be no room for error.
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But those were the orders that came from the dugout, Ramos followed them and the ensuing result was an epic meltdown loss to the Chicago Cubs.
After putting Rizzo aboard, Ramos walked in the tying run before uncorking a wild pitch that allowed the winning run to score in a 5-4 Cubs comeback victory.
“That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t want to walk Rizzo, because I kind of felt all over the place,” Ramos said. “It was pretty rough.”
Instead of escaping with one win in Chicago, the Marlins were swept by the Cubs.
“These are always painful when you have a good shot of winning the game and give it up late,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “I think this is the first time we’ve done it this year.”
The Marlins took a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning before the bullpen allowed it all to unravel.
Fernando Rodney gave up a run in the eighth before Ramos coughed up three more in the ninth. When the Marlins traded for Rodney on June 30, he had a microscopically low 0.31 ERA with the Padres. His ERA since joining the Marlins: 4.80.
Still, the Marlins had a 4-2 lead going into the ninth thanks to a two-run, go-ahead homer by Jeff Mathis and an add-on solo shot by Christian Yelich.
And they had their All-Star closer to preserve the lead. Ramos had blown only one of his 32 save opportunities all season. But it was clear from the outset he couldn’t find the strike zone.
Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Miguel Montero, a single to Javier Baez and a walk to Matt Szczur to load the bases.
Dexter Fowler’s sacrifice fly made it 4-3, with the other two runners advancing as well. Ramos was able to strike out Kris Bryant for the second out of the inning.
That’s when, with first base open, Mattingly had Ramos walk Rizzo. Mattingly knew it was a gamble, especially with Ramos struggling to throw strikes with any of his pitches. But Mattingly said he preferred for Ramos to face Ben Zobrist, the Cubs’ cleanup hitter, and not Rizzo.
“It’s a tough one because you fear both guys,” Mattingly said. “You don’t really want to get to Zobrist. But Rizzo, he’s been their top guy. It’s one of those you don’t really want to go to Zobrist, but you don’t want Rizzo to beat you, either. So you take your best shot.”
Ramos walked Zobrist on five pitches.
“That’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to walk him there,” Ramos said of the intentional walk to Rizzo. “But I had to do that, and my job was to get Zobrist out right there, and I just couldn’t execute.”
His second pitch to Willson Contreras bounced in the dirt past Mathis, and Szczur raced home with the winning run.
It marked the second time this season — and first since April — that the Marlins were swept in a three-game series.
“They’re tough,” said Marlins starter Tom Koehler, who worked six strong innings, allowing only one run. “But we win as a team. We lose as a team.”