Over his first 400-plus games at the Major League Baseball level, Eric Owens hit just 16 home runs. That’s why it was unexpected when his tenure with the Florida Marlins started with some pop.
Owens homered in each of his first two games as a member of the Marlins and three times in his first month. His 10th-inning blast on this day 20 years ago served as the game-winner as the Marlins rallied past the Houston Astros at Enron Field, 9-8.
Florida had trailed by three runs after six innings on April 27, 2001, but managed to force extras.
Winning wasn’t going to be easy as hard-throwing lefty Billy Wagner came in to pitch the 10th inning for Houston. Wagner was an All-Star in 1999 and had yielded just two runs in nine innings pitched so far in 2001. Wagner started his night by getting Marlins’ lead-off man Luis Castillo to fly out. That brought Owens to the plate with one out.
With the count even 2-2, Owens took a fastball on the outer part of the plate and hammered it to right field. It cleared the wall as the Marlins took their first lead since the fourth inning.
After pitching a scoreless ninth, Florida closer Antonio Alfonseca shut the door on the Astros in the 10th. Alfonseca struck out Moises Alou and Richard Hidalgo before getting Brad Ausmus to fly out to end the game. Alfonseca struck out four of the six batters he retired to get the win.
Early on, it didn’t appear that late-game heroics would be necessary for the Marlins, who raced to a 5-0 lead. Mike Lowell got the scoring started for Florida with a two-run single in the first before adding a sacrifice fly between RBI singles from Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson in the second.
After pushing two runs across in the bottom of the second, the Astros took the lead on a Julio Lugo grand slam in the fourth. Hidalgo pushed the Houston lead to 8-5 with a two-run home run an inning later.
An RBI double from Álex González in the top of the seventh cut the Florida deficit to two. That was followed by a two-run home run from Cliff Floyd in the eighth to even things up.
Owens’ blast capped a five-hit night as he became just the sixth Marlin ever to collect five hits in a game. No player in franchise history has ever had more.
Owens would hit just seven more home runs for the duration of his career in Major League Baseball. His only blast in extra innings served as the game-winner and came on this day two decades ago.