In nearly three decades of baseball, the Florida/Miami Marlins have seen contests end in a number of thrilling ways. That includes walk-off home runs, wild pitches, grand slams, plays at the plate and much more.
One of the more bizarre finishes came on this day 20 years ago. The Marlins topped the Atlanta Braves on a walk-off balk by Braves’ closer John Rocker in the bottom of the ninth.
At 16-16, the Marlins were looking to get over .500 when they hosted the National League East-leading Braves on May 8, 2000.
Braves’ starter Greg Maddux allowed eight hits, but struck out 10 in seven innings of work. Florida starter Vladmir Núñez also had a quality start, yielding just two runs on four hits while walking five in six innings of work.
The Marlins picked up two unearned runs off Maddux in the first inning. After an error by Rafael Furcal on a ground ball off the bat of Preston Wilson allowed Mark Kotsay to score the game’s first run, Wilson came around to score on an RBI groundout by Mike Lowell.
The Braves cut the lead in half in the fifth inning when Maddux helped himself with an RBI single. They drew even in the sixth when Andres Galarraga grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to score Quilvio Veras.
With the score tied 2-2 heading to the bottom of the ninth inning, catcher Paul Bako got things started for the Marlins with a solid single to left field off Atlanta’s Rudy Seanez. Danny Bautista—a former member of the Braves—was called on to pinch run and got caught straying too far off first base. Atlanta first baseman Galarraga was unable to make the play, however, and Bautista advanced to second.
After Dave Berg popped out, Bautista advanced to third base on a groundout by Luis Castillo. With two outs, Atlanta manager Bobby Cox went to the bullpen and the left-handed Rocker.
Rocker intentionally walked Mark Smith to get to lefty Cliff Floyd. Smith took second on defensive indifference as Rocker got ahead in the count, 1-2. As Rocker stepped on the rubber, the ball slipped from his hand. A balk was called and Bautista was sent home for the winning run.
Rocker was unable to record an out, but it was Seanez who took the loss. Dan Miceli recorded the final four outs for Florida to pick up the win.
Bako finished 3-for-4 for the Marlins in the victory and got the ninth-inning rally started. Álex González added two hits as well.
It would be four years later before another Major League Baseball game ended on a balk. It marked just the second time that it happened in Marlins’ history. The first also came against the Braves when Florida was on the losing end, thanks to a balk by Matt Turner. Rocker’s gaffe remains the only walk-off win in Marlins’ history on a balk. It happened on this day 20 years ago.