Not only did the Marlins need to work overtime to earn their first win of the regular season—it took nearly a full double shift. Totally worth it, though. Miguel Rojas’ walk-off single had Miami hyped in the middle of the night.
Maybe you hit the hay early? Or were glued to the game for every pitch and just want to marinate in it a little longer?
Either way, here’s what stood out from the 17 innings of action, and how the Marlins must adjust moving forward.
Caleb Smith and Braxton Lee debut
Two hours into the action, I was planning to do an article focused entirely on Smith. That looked like it would be the story of the game!
Although overshadowed by the ensuing chaos, that doesn’t change the fact that Smith impressed. Versus a patient, powerful Cubs lineup, the lefty went 5 1⁄3 innings on 100 pitches (68 strikes), allowing only three hits and one run while racking up eight strikeouts. You might not witness a better Marlins start during this entire homestand.
Lee’s overall 0-for-4 seems pedestrian in the box score, but there was a glimpse of his most extraordinary skill.
Here’s some #Statcast on #Marlins rookie Braxton Lee — 70-grade run tool per @MLBPipeline — and it’s impressive: On his bunt in the 11th inning (thrown out on a close play), he had a sprint speed of 31.0 ft/sec. He went home-to-1st in just 3.60 seconds. That’s elite speed.— David Adler (@_dadler) March 31, 2018
Lewis Brinson: as advertised
The organization’s top prospect followed up his quiet Opening Day performance with a dominant one. Brinson singled in the third inning and came around to score. Then he added hits in each of his next three plate appearances, too.
Brinson finished the day 4-for-8 with only one strikeout.
He also showed off the leather with this great diving catch in the 10th:
According to Statcast, batted balls with that combination of exit velocity (98.4 mph) and launch angle (17 degrees) are hits 46 percent of the time. But whenever Brinson’s in center field, opponents shouldn’t get their hopes up until they see it actually touch the grass.
How the hell did García do that?
Ideally, the team would’ve liked to get through the weekend with its seven other active relievers, saving Jarlin García to handle the fifth rotation spot.
Gotta scrap that plan now.
García was summoned to begin the 10th inning and just kept mowing down Cubs, so he stayed out there. By going six scoreless frames (the first five of them perfect), his outing was totally unprecedented in franchise history. There’s never been such a combination of length and excellence coming from the ‘pen.
Public enemy No. 1 Chad Wallach
In the absence of J.T. Realmuto (bone bruise), none of the three catchers on the active roster inspire much confidence. There was, however, an expectation that the most experienced of the bunch—Bryan Holaday—or the one who has some track record with the Fish—Tomás Telis—would see significant usage.
Don Mattingly instead made the surprising decision to start Chad Wallach for the second straight game, and doing something surprising that produces awful results will get you roasted by fans.
On Friday night, Wallach became the first Marlin to ever strike out five times in a game.
Starting rotation in flux
García’s herculean effort didn’t quite take them to the finish line, so Mattingly also had to call upon Saturday’s scheduled starter, Odrisamer Despaigne. He worked a tidy 11-pitch inning and was credited with the win.
The initial thought is that Despaigne’s efficiency should allow him to follow through on his original assignment.
That still leaves a dilemma for Monday. García will not be available on two days’ rest. The Marlins could make that a bullpen game, or else it would seem they need a starter who’s not currently on the roster. Candidates include Sandy Alcántara, Adam Conley and Trevor Richards.
Relying on small ball
On an awful night for the Cubs offense, they were at least able to force extra innings on the strength of Kris Bryant’s solo home run.
Through two games of the series, the disparity between these teams’ approaches is startling. The Cubs have 14 of the 16 longest batted balls, including the only four that cleared the fence.
Wallach aside, the Marlins actually show a knack for making contact. The bottom line, though, is they’ll need to drive the ball more consistently to keep pace with squads that have superior talent.
Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald recently detailed how the Marlins plan to be more transparent about their attendance figures, deviating from a history of creative accounting. Opening Day is always an exception to the usual ticket-buying pattern, so Friday night was the first test of this updated policy.
What an inconvenient truth—second game of the season with beautiful weather and a high-profile opponent in town...and only 12,034 paying customers.
Already dreading what that will look like when, say, the Braves visit for a weekday series in late July.
Derek Jeter on candid camera
Even when the boss does the most mundane things, people seem to find it fascinating.
Jeter refueling with some popcorn four hours into the game:
And fired up after the victory:
Miguel Rojas’ understudy
For the time being, Rojas will be starting regularly at shortstop. But his most defined role on the club is “celebrator-in-chief.” He’s expected to don the monkey mask again this season and prank whichever teammates gets the glory of the postgame interview after a win.
When Rojas himself is the star, those responsibilities go to...
Paul Severino’s first Marlins’ walk-off call
You have heard Rich Waltz in this situation countless times through the years. Severino’s voice, temperament and terminology will take some getting used to.
If you aren’t in a position to listen with sound, here is the transcript:
“And Rojas...into center field, a base hit! They’ll wave Anderson around. Here comes the throw...He scores, and the Marlins pick up the victory in 17. Miguel Rojas the hero tonight.”
After working a limited spring training schedule, the rookie play-by-play guy jam-packed a massive amount of experience into a single night.