Editor's Note: Fish Stripes readers, welcome our second new history writer for the site, Ben Estes! Ben is also not a Marlins fan, but he appreciates history, and here he is in his debut, appreciating a tight game between the Dodgers and Marlins that ended in spectacular fashion. -MJ
A pitcher's duel that disappointed, an ejected star, an extra-innings, walk-off victory, an unlikely hero - this game just about had it all. On this date, August 12, 2003, the Marlins defeated the Dodgers, 5-4, in 13 innings in Miami thanks to third-string catcher Ramon Castro's two-out, walk-off home run.
At the time, Florida and Los Angeles found themselves in the thick of an exceptionally crowded pennant race. Both teams had little shot at a division crown with Atlanta and San Francisco running away with the NL East and West, respectively, but the clubs were two of seven (!) teams within six games of Wild Card leader Philadelphia. (By comparison, Cincinnati is the only team today within that same distance of leader St. Louis, though both teams would qualify for the playoffs with the new wild card rules.) At 64-54, Florida entered the game on August 12 just 0.5 games behind the Phillies, with the Dodgers 2.5 games behind the Fish.
The matchup had the makings of a pitcher's duel, as Los Angeles's Hideo Nomo (2.73 ERA in 25 starts to that point) squared off with Josh Beckett (3.29 in 14). Instead, it became a bullpen duel. A back-and-forth start, in which the Marlins came from behind to tie the game in three consecutive innings, making it 4-4 in the fifth, eventually gave way to deadlock. Florida's pen was particularly impressive, holding the Dodgers hitless in the game's final six innings and retiring 16 straight LA batters in one stretch, but LA's arms were up to the task, too. In the bottom of the 13th, Dodger reliever Paul Shuey got two quick outs, and it appeared the affair was headed for yet another inning.
Enter Ramon Castro. With backstops Ivan Rodriguez and Mike Redmond ahead of him, Castro's playing time was scarce in 2003. In fact, he only found himself in the game because Rodriguez was ejected in the top of the fifth inning for arguing a play at the plate. (It was one of three such plays, all of which went in LA's favor, as well as Rodriguez's third ejection in the previous two weeks). Redmond replaced Rodriguez, and Castro eventually entered in the 11th to give Redmond a break as part of a double switch.
Castro had nearly became the goat of the game in the top of the 13th, as his throwing error on Adrian Beltre's steal attempt allowed Beltre to go all the way to third with one out. But Chad Fox got out of the jam. That gave Castro, who had shown some pop in his very limited time at the plate to that point (slugging .462 in 43 plate appearances), the chance to be the hero. In the bottom of the inning, Castro clubbed a 2-0 pitch out to left field for the winning home run, his third long ball of the season. After a long four hours and five minutes of baseball, the Marlins came away with a 5-4 win that elevated them to the top of the Wild Card standings thanks to the Phillies' loss that day. The game stands as one of the team's more dramatic wins in what became a magical, World Series-winning season.