In the heat of a pennant race, Florida capped a dramatic game against a top contender with a walk-off winner. On this date, September 3, 1997, the Marlins topped the Baltimore Orioles, 7-6, thanks to Gary Sheffield's home run in the bottom of the ninth.
The final month of the season had just begun and it promised to be a dramatic one for Marlins fans, who found their team firmly in the hunt for the first postseason berth in the five-year history of the franchise. Florida was in a good spot at this point--the team was 6.5 games ahead of San Francisco in the Wild Card race and still chasing a National League East title as well, sitting just 3.5 games behind the Braves.
Every game from here on out obviously took on plenty of urgency. That was especially the case in Florida's series against the Orioles (September 3 was the finale), seeing as Baltimore had the best record in baseball at 85-50, even after dropping the first two games of their set with the Marlins. The 1997 season marked the inaugural year of interleague play, and while in later years AL-NL matchups concluded well before the end of the summer, in 1997 interleague didn't finish until early September, adding an exciting twist to the playoff race. Florida probably wished it could play all its games against American League foes; entering September 3, the Marlins were 11-3 against AL teams and in the midst of a five-game winning streak against Toronto and Baltimore.
The pitching matchup wasn't overly compelling, with the Orioles sending right-hander Scott Kamieniecki (4.02 ERA) to the mound and the Marlins throwing lefty Al Leiter (4.31 ERA). Indeed, the game quickly turned into a battle of offenses. Florida took a 2-0 lead in the first inning off back-to-back, run-scoring singles by third baseman Bobby Bonilla and first baseman Darren Daulton, but Baltimore seized the lead three innings later thanks to hits by light-hitting shortstop Mike Bordick and center fielder Jeffrey Hammonds. The Marlins immediately tied the game in the bottom of the fourth, but future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. blasted a three-run homer off Leiter one frame later to take a seemingly decisive 6-3 lead.
As they showed throughout their eventual World Series-winning season, though, the 1997 Marlins weren't a team to quit. In the bottom of the sixth, they took advantage of Orioles reliever Brian Williams, who was making just his sixth Major League appearance of the season and first since June 11. Williams gave up a two-run triple to second baseman Craig Counsell and a run-scoring single to pinch-hitter Jim Eisenreich, tying the game once more at 6-6.
That set up Sheffield. Facing reliever Shawn Boskie (who had twice been removed from the Orioles' rotation and carried a 5.67 ERA in 24 appearances), Sheffield launched a 1-2 pitch to the seats in left field. The Marlins won, 7-6, stretching their win streak to six games and sweeping a big series against the best team in baseball. September couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Florida.