clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

20 years ago today: Marlins capture first World Series title

The then-fledgling Marlins franchise defied expectations to reach the summit.

World Series

If you missed last night’s wild 7-6 Houston Astros victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in game two of the World Series, do yourself a favor and go back and watch it (from the eighth inning on). I feel sorry for any baseball fan that missed it.

In the wake of that awesome extra-innings post-season affair, it’s only fitting that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the (Florida) Marlins’ extra-innings post-season affair. You know, the one that resulted in a World Series title.

Much as the Dodgers and Astros will probably continue trading wins, the 1997 World Series was a literal back and forth affair, with both teams trading wins leading up to that pivotal game seven show-down at Pro Player Stadium. Cleveland opted to go with rookie Jaret Wright on three day’s rest, and the decision proved fruitful as Wright would allow only an Edgar Renteria single in the first inning, shutting down the Marlins for six strong innings before Bobby Bonilla sent a booming solo shot sailing over the right-center field wall to start the seventh inning.

Savvy veteran Al Leiter got the start for the Fish, giving up two runs courtesy a Tony Fernandez single in the third inning. Coupled with the aforementioned home run, the Indians maintained a 2-1 lead heading into the ninth.

Jose Mesa came on to close the ninth for the Tribe and you know what happened next. Moises Alou reached on a single, moved to third on a Charles Johnson single, and was brought home by a Craig Counsell sac-fly. The Marlins, four strikes away from losing the World Series, had tied the game up and sent it into extras.

While Robb Nen and Jay Powell held down the fort on the Marlins side of things, veteran Charles Nagy, normally accustomed to pitching out of the rotation, came in for Cleveland to try and keep the Indians in the game, successfully doing so in the 10th.

In the 11th, with one out and Bonilla on first, Counsell hit a soft bouncer that inexplicably went under the second baseman Fernández’s glove, shades of Bill Buckner’s costly 1986 error in such a pivotal moment.

Whether or not you believe that Bonilla was intentionally trying to block the view of the ball, the error prevented a potential double-play and at a minimum saved an out. Fernández would figure heavily again when he opted to throw Bonilla out at the plate in a bases-loaded situation instead of going for the double-play to end the inning, but to be fair to him, the speedy Devon White was the one chugging up the first baseline.

Edgar Renteria then stepped up to the plate, and the rest as they say is history.

A wild celebration ensued, with players and fans alike mingling on the field (take note, Florida fan base detractors). Some iconic moments in the immediate aftermath: Craig Counsell leaping joyfully to home plate and being mobbed by his teammates, Edgar Renteria’s tearful reaction at first base to hitting the game-winner, Livan Hernandez running onto the field, sliding onto his knees and greeting the adoring crowd with a primal roar, Jim Leyland pointing to the stands as if to say “I told you so,” and then being hoisted up and paraded around the field.

Coming only two years after the creation of the wild card, the Marlins became the first team to win the World Series as a wild card entrant. The team’s subsequent dismantling took a lot of the wind out of the sails of the goodwill the team had built up with the Florida fan base, the ramifications of which are still being felt today (with, of course, a heavy dose of Jeffrey Loria in-between to further sour the relationship).

Nevertheless, the 1997 World Series victory remains a special memory in the hearts of many Floridians and is a reminder that, regardless of where the Marlins are today, the pinnacle of baseball achievement is never entirely out of reach.

Video footage courtesy of MLB’s Youtube channels.