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Walk-off Wednesdays: 1,000 miles from Miami, Marlins feel right at home

They should’ve spent the entire season in San Juan!

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

There’s no better way to end a baseball game than with a walk-off winner, and no better way to start your day than by reliving one of those moments. To entertain you throughout the inactive stretches of the Marlins’ offseason, we’ll be featuring the most thrilling finishes in franchise history, with new installments on Wednesdays.

As Puerto Rico tries to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria (with help from last weekend’s benefit concert at Marlins Park), this series remembers when the Fish played on the island in 2010.

Date: June 29, 2010

When Major League Baseball formally announced the San Juan Series, Florida Marlins and New York Mets executives insisted that Puerto Rican fans would cheer in their favor:

"Hosting games in Puerto Rico is a natural fit for us as we prepare to move into our new ballpark in 2012 in Miami, the Gateway to the Americas," said David Samson, President, Florida Marlins. "We are excited to return to Puerto Rico to bring Marlins baseball to our fans there."

"The Mets are delighted to return to Puerto Rico and partner with MLB, the Players Association and the Marlins in bringing professional baseball to fans around the world," said Dave Howard, Executive Vice President, Business Operations, New York Mets. "We have players on our roster from seven countries with five hailing from Puerto Rico, and we're looking forward to the electricity that will fill the stadium when they step on to the field."

But when it was time to finally compete on the island, they no longer seemed so confident. Both took extra steps to grease the skids.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The Mets started Puerto Rico’s own Angel Pagan in center field for the middle game of the series, batting him second in their lineup. Pagan had missed nearly a week of action after experiencing a muscle spasm in his right side during the club’s previous homestand. His absence continued through the Monday opener, a 10-3 loss. At the risk of possibly aggravating his injury, the Mets desperately wanted some local enthusiasm on their side.

Probably not as desperately as the Marlins. The 18,373 people at Estadio Hiram Bithorn represented one of their largest “home” crowds of the month. Entering June 29 with a 36-40 record and only a few days removed from a managerial change, they couldn’t afford to bungle this opportunity.

So during the second inning of the game, owner Jeffrey Loria announced that interim skipper Edwin Rodriguez would remain in charge throughout the rest of the 2010 season. It was no coincidence—as the first Puerto Rican to ever hold that title in the major leagues, Rodriguez was just as popular as anybody on the field that evening.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Just a few minutes after that news broke, Pagan’s sacrifice fly extended New York’s lead to 3-0. Immediately, the Marlins rallied around Rodriguez by batting around in the bottom of the third. Six runs crossed the plate on home runs by Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla.

The Fish left runners stranded in scoring position in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings. Didn’t seem like that would matter, though. Closer Leo Nunez came in to preserve a 6-4 lead, the bottom half of the Mets lineup due up.

He made it last for only seven pitches: single, double, ground out, single, and the score was all tied up.

Extra innings wouldn’t have been such a bad idea, considering how Puerto Rico is usually deprived of MLB action. This game nearly headed in that direction after Pedro Feliciano—another island native!—retired his first two opponents in the bottom of the ninth.

Jorge Cantu kept the inning alive with a two-out double, bringing up Uggla. Feliciano got the ground ball he wanted, but didn’t get it where he wanted. The Hiram Bithorn artificial turf took care of the rest:

Win Expectancy added on walk-off play: 39.2 percent

Uggla would set a career high in 2010 with 105 runs batted in, but most of that production happened later in the summer. At the time of this heroic effort, the beefy slugger was stuck in one of his worst slumps as a Marlin (entered the game with a .683 OPS in June). Aside from the homer and single, he struck out swinging in his other three plate appearances that night.

A key detail contributing to the walk-off was the awkward approach and throw by the center fielder. The Mets removed Angel Pagan for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning, so that’s rookie Jesus Feliciano making his best effort. This game might’ve ended very differently if not for that substitution.

Source: FanGraphs