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.
The series continues with Martin Prado, who celebrates his 34th birthday this Friday.
Date: September 6, 2015
You would be lucky to switch places with Tyler Clippard.
He’s spent 11 seasons—and counting—in the major leagues. Most of his teams were legitimate contenders. Along the way, the right-hander has made two All-Star appearances, more than $33 million in salary and earned a gold medal for the United States in the World Baseball Classic. Nobody mistakes him for a supermodel, but that seems like a small concession for the athlete lifestyle and so much professional success.
Just like any other baseball player, Clippard must deal with disappointment once in a while. Right now, for example, 25 of his Houston Astros teammates are competing in the World Series, as he watches helplessly from the bench. The 32-year-old’s track record wasn’t enough to compensate for his struggles since arriving in Houston (6.43 ERA, 5.09 FIP in 14.0 IP), so he’s been left off the roster throughout their postseason run.
Pitching in high-leverage situations means that even Clippard’s strongest seasons have included some heartache, often when you would least expect it. Although an easy assignment on paper, the series finale between the Marlins and New York Mets in late 2015 turned into pure agony.
Clippard entered in the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead, but after two quick outs, he served up a solo home run to Justin Bour. He escaped further trouble, having thrown only 14 pitches. When the Mets failed to break the tie in the top of the ninth, manager Terry Collins decided to stick with him. After all, the Fish had one of MLB’s weakest offenses, averaging 3.7 runs per game up to that point.
Backup catcher Anthony Recker couldn’t corral a swinging third strike to Jeff Mathis, allowing the leadoff batter to reach. Miami would load the bases on a Dee Gordon single and Christian Yelich intentional walk, which brought up Martin Prado with one out.
Clippard desperately wanted a strikeout to keep the winning run stranded, and very nearly got it on this 2-2 delivery:
Meanwhile, his workload was piling up. Foul ball after foul ball after foul ball forced Clippard beyond 40 pitches for the first time in more than five years. Sure enough, No. 41 caught the barrel of Prado’s bat.
Win Expectancy added on walk-off play: 17.1 percent
These two veterans were well-acquainted, but it would be misleading to call them “rivals.” Clippard had dominated Prado since their first matchup in 2009, limiting him to a .091/.130/.227 batting line in 23 plate appearances. That included a 26.1 percent strikeout rate, uncharacteristically high for one of the league’s best contact hitters (Prado has a lifetime 11.1 K%).
In other words, this estimate probably downplays the drama—even facing an exhausted Clippard, the Marlins needed a great effort to finish off that rally. And they got it from Captain Pratt.