It may not be exactly how they drew it up, but it’s never been that way for the Miami Marlins. After all, this is the same franchise that has won two World Series despite never finishing atop their own division. This is the same organization that fired their manager after a 16-22 start in 2003, only to eventually take down one of baseball’s biggest dynasties five months later. Did you think the next Marlins’ postseason berth would be simple?
The entire Marlins organization came together during Spring Training 2.0 and asked “why not us?” Many people around baseball thought it was simply a team mantra to hype themselves up, without having any real meaning or possibilities. But this season was different. After losing 105 games last year, the Marlins were finally calling up some of their top prospects and made several veteran acquisitions over the offseason. But these weren’t the usual signings the Marlins have made in the last couple of years. Rather than adding washed-up veterans as a “locker room presence,” they claimed players like Jesús Aguilar, who has had the second-most RBIs and home runs on the team. They signed players like Brandon Kintzler, who leads the National League with 12 saves. Fittingly, both of them had crucial roles in securing Friday’s victory.
“We left spring feeling good about ourselves,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “You can’t fool players. They know what’s real and what’s not. There was that belief from the beginning...people that were actually down there in our camp could feel it. I just don’t think the outside world—the baseball world— believed it, or they just don’t pay that much attention.”
Don Mattingly breaks down the win that secured the @Marlins their 1st playoff spot since 2003.#JuntosMiami #MLB pic.twitter.com/QjxH6tJbqE— FOX Sports Marlins (@FOXMarlins) September 26, 2020
The Marlins got out to a surprising start in 2020 by winning their opening series against the Philadelphia Phillies. After splitting the first two games, they sent out Robert Dugger as their emergency starting pitcher for the series finale because their original starter, José Ureña, tested positive for COVID-19. Miami was immediately in a 4-0 deficit after just one inning, but battled back for an 11-6 victory. As it turns out, this was just a glimpse of what the Marlins would go through over the next two months.
One day after their thrilling victory over Philadelphia, we learned that a coronavirus outbreak had ravaged through the clubhouse. As the hours rolled by, the total number of positive coronavirus cases on the Marlins eventually reached 18 players. More than half of the Marlins roster was put on the IL, including their ace Sandy Alcantara, leading hitters Garrett Cooper and Miguel Rojas, and eight of their twelve relief pitchers. Their next two series were postponed as the entire traveling party remained quarantined inside a Philly hotel. People around Major league Baseball wondered aloud if the season should even continue.
But it wasn’t over. President of Baseball Operations Michael Hill and the rest of the Marlins front office assembled an emergency roster, scooping up veterans from the scrap heap and rolling the dice on prospects who hadn’t succeeded above the Single-A level. And somehow, the patchwork group looked just as good (if not better) than their Opening Day roster.
It wasn’t over when the healthy Marlins players had to turn their individual hotel rooms into training facilities, using sanitary socks as makeshift baseballs and mattresses as backstops. Instead, they went into Baltimore and swept the Orioles with the help of shutouts from Pablo López and Elieser Hernandez.
It wasn’t over when the Marlins had to fly from Miami to New York and back to Miami in a span of 24 hours. Instead, they defeated Jacob deGrom and the Mets, boosting the club’s energy and reinforcing their belief that the whole could be greater than the sum of its parts.
And it certainly was not over when Miami had to play 26 games in 22 days, and lost four of their last five games heading into Friday night. Instead, Sandy Alcantara promised a “fight” against the Yankees.
He delivered on that promise. On the four-year anniversary of José Fernández’s death, Alcantara walked into The Bronx and dominated the Yankees. After 7 ⅓ IP, he was reluctant to leave the game, just like José always was, and visibly distraught when the lead disappeared due to a throwing error and soft single.
And then, 30 minutes later, Kintzler induced perhaps the most important double play in Marlins history. And it’s only fitting that it was hit directly to Miguel Rojas, the current longest-tenured Marlins player.
“I’ve never wanted a ball hit to me more than I wanted that one right there,” Rojas said.
With a step on second base and a throw to first, Rojas completed the mission to send the Fish back to the postseason for the first time since 2003. While players poured out of the visitor’s dugout, play-by-play announcer Paul Severino echoed the words that so many Marlins fans have become familiar with: “It’s a Marlins win!”
The pundits will say that the Marlins enter October playing with house money, lacking the same urgency to advance because they’re “ahead of schedule.” But inside that clubhouse, every single person wants to keep riding this wave for as long as possible.