On a day when 592 dogs showed up for “Bark at the Park” and a handful of former players participated in a low-key celebration of the Marlins’ 20th anniversary season, it took backup catcher Jeff Mathis to finally hit on the kind of promotion that is sure to work.
A game-ending grand slam in the bottom of the ninth — that was Mathis’ can’t-miss contribution Sunday to the team’s beleaguered marketing effort.
Lump it all together, this dramatic 6-2 win over the San Diego Padres plus a 15-10 record in June, and Miami suddenly has something interesting to fill the gap between the back-to-back champion Heat and the idle Dolphins.
That ninth inning certainly had the place howling, Fidos and fans alike. The crescendo came with Mathis getting mobbed at home plate by his teammates.
“I knew I was fixing to get pounded,” said Mathis, who happily lowered his shoulder and disappeared into a chaos of chest bumps, back slaps and hallelujahs.
That’s not the kind of treatment that a .129 hitter gets every day. Seeing somebody get intentionally walked right in front of him, that’s far more common.
Come to think of it, that happened to Mathis, too, on Sunday, with San Diego manager Bud Black deciding to walk Greg Dobbs with runners on first and third and one out.
“I told Red (Marlins manager Mike Redmond) I appreciated being in that position,” said Mathis, who briefly took a glance toward the dugout to see if a pinch-hitter was coming for him.
Juan Pierre had a bat in his hand, and that would have been fine, but Juan’s not going to pound one into the visitors’ bullpen in left field, rocking two-year-old Marlins Park like it has seldom been rocked.
Giancarlo Stanton hit a walk-off grand slam last year against the New York Mets. On this day, he was 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts while Mathis, the guy who missed most of spring training because of a broken collarbone, assumed the slugger’s role. What other surprise is coming, the morphing of a 29-51 team into a summertime fireworks show?
Hey, one miracle at a time here. It’s enough, for the moment, to see Miami’s young starting pitchers coming on strong.
Jacob Turner, who came to the Marlins in the Anibal Sanchez trade with Detroit last summer, pitched his first career complete game in a Saturday night win over the Padres. Rookie Jose Fernandez, 4-4 with a 2.98 ERA, is scheduled to start Monday night. Sandwiched in between Sunday was Nathan Eovaldi, 23, a product of the Hanley Ramirez housecleaning last July. Eovaldi pitched six shutout innings and left the game with a 2-0 lead built on Derek Dietrich’s fourth-inning double.
That’s when the Padres pulled their own sneak attack, tying the score in the seventh on a two-run homer off Chad Qualls by pinch-hitter Carlos Quentin. Eovaldi deserved better, and he got it a little later when the earthquake of Mathis’ game-winner went rippling out into the sleepy side streets of Little Havana.
The trick is getting the rest of South Florida to feel it, and that includes some of the players honored in Sunday’s 20th anniversary celebration.
Charles Johnson, who caught Sunday’s ceremonial first pitch from 1997 teammate Jeff Conine, was on just his second visit to Marlins Park. Johnson’s first was last season’s inaugural opening night. He lives in Plantation, about 30 miles up the road from the stadium.
“To see this ballpark here is pretty amazing,” said C.J., “and deservedly so. Two championships in a short period of time, I think this team definitely deserves a nice ballpark.”
You’ll never get universal agreement on that one, but Sunday’s drama surely provided a shiny moment worthy of the ballpark. That’s how you market a team, by serving up a little major league magic.