Another baseball season is about to conclude before it was supposed to at Marlins Park. That will make it four years in a row that the beautiful ballpark shuts down without its tenant going to the playoffs.
The new stadium that symbolized a new era for the Marlins has really been the home of the same old thing since it opened in 2012: losing.
One exception to the pattern has been pitcher Jose Fernandez. When he’s on the mound, he provides a jolt out of the anticlimactic malaise shrouding the stadium.
On Friday, the 23-year-old ace set the record for longest home winning streak to start a career at 17-0.
But even he seemed to get caught in the bummer vibe early, giving up four runs to Atlanta in the first inning — including a home run to the Braves’ first batter. Fernandez had never given up four runs in an entire game at Marlins Park.
The Marlins — showing the kind of chutzpah they could have used in June and July — struck back with four runs in the bottom of the first, three on Justin Bour’s home run. They rallied behind Fernandez for a 12-11 victory.
The Marlins finish their last homestand Sunday before finishing the season with six road games. It’s probably better to fade away far away — in Philadelphia, on track for the worst record in the major leagues and last place in the National League East.
Miami joins Seattle as the two teams with the longest playoff droughts, Miami since 2003, when it won the World Series, and Seattle since 2001. The Toronto Blue Jays had the longest streak of fruitlessness, since 1993, until they smashed it with a turnaround this year.
The Marlins had genuine optimism in the spring that this roster would carry them back to contention. But it was apparent by the All-Star break they were in for another year of blah. Three months is a long time to linger. Then, like the bread in the cupboard past its due date, the Marlins grew moldy.
Fernandez gave fans a reason to attend Friday. Shaky first inning notwithstanding, he’s looking and feeling terrific since his July 2 return from a 14-month recovery from Tommy John surgery. He says he’s actually thankful for the ordeal that interrupted his career because it made him “a better pitcher and a better man.”
Fernandez personifies hope for the Marlins, in 2016 and beyond, as does the other half of their dynamic duo, Giancarlo Stanton, and Dee Gordon, and a strong core. It’s taken longer than expected for Stanton to return from a broken left hand, and he might stay on the bench for what would be a total of 86 games. Stanton and Fernandez have not been on the field together this season.
Only one position player from Opening Day did not miss games because of injury or demotion, and that was the ageless, super fit Ichiro Suzuki, 41. Martin Prado, Christian Yelich and Adeiny Hechavarria missed chunks of time.
The original pitching rotation got ripped up. Henderson Alvarez, an All-Star in 2014, won zero games before shoulder surgery. Jarred Cosart missed five weeks with vertigo. Dan Haren and Mat Latos were traded.
The magical outfield never materialized, with Stanton out, Yelich injured or moved around from his natural Gold Glove position in left and Marcell Ozuna sent down during a slump.
The Marlins’ mismanaged minor-league system is barren, so no reinforcements were or are available.
The players admit they underperformed at crucial junctures. It was also a season during which everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
On Opening Day, a sneaky rain cloud unloaded on surprised players and spectators when the roof was left open, prompting team president David Samson to curse the weather app on his phone.
Two players were voted onto the All-Star team — Stanton and Gordon — but neither could play because they were injured.
Owner Jeffrey Loria, exhibiting his usual impatience, fired manager Mike Redmond at 16-22 and, in a peculiar move, chose Dan Jennings, who had never managed above the high school level.
The man who will replace Jennings will be the 10th manager since Loria became owner in 2002 and seventh since current Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez was fired and called a “colossal failure” by Loria in 2010.
Things could be worse. The Marlins could be the Washington Nationals, a huge bust. But the disappointment of 2015 in Miami compares to that of 2012, when the enhanced payroll and Ozzie Guillen promised greatness.
Now, as then, Miami will have to settle for a quiet October.