Florida Marlins’ utility man Kevin Millar had just four home runs over the first 58 games of the team’s 2001 season. The last three of those however, turned out to be the decisive hit in a victory.
The final of those three came on this day 20 years ago. Millar’s three-run blast capped a four-run inning and ultimately lifted the Marlins past the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-3.
The teams were playing an afternoon rubber game to cap a three-game series on June 7, 2001. As the contest got late, it looked as though the lowly Pirates would leave Pro Player Stadium with a series victory.
An RBI triple by Rob Mackowiak in the top of the eighth had doubled Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-1 as the contest went to the bottom of the inning. After striking out the first two batters he faced in the bottom of the seventh, reliever Josias Manzanillo remained on the mound for Pittsburgh.
The eighth inning would not be kind to the Pittsburgh right-hander. Luis Castillo singled to start the frame before Álex González was hit by a pitch and Cliff Floyd singled to load the bases. A passed ball allowed Castillo to score and Manzanillo appeared to be in trouble.
The Pirates however, stuck with him and momentarily, it looked as though it would pay off. Manzanillo was able to get Preston Wilson to fly out to shallow center before striking out Mike Lowell. As Millar stepped to the plate, Manzanillo was one out away from getting out of the jam with a 3-2 lead.
With runners at second and third, Millar needed just a base hit to give Florida the lead, but Manzanillo put up quite the fight. After nine pitches and several foul balls, the count was even at 3-2. The 10th pitch to Millar left the yard.
Millar was able to get a pitch he could handle and pulled it over the towering wall in left field for a three-run home run. The Marlins led 5-3.
In the top of the ninth, Marlins’ closer Antonio Alfonseca struck out the first two batters he faced before the Pirates tried to make a two-out rally. Jason Kendall was hit by a pitch and Brian Giles singled to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, but Alfonseca was able to get Kevin Young to pop out to end the contest.
As for Millar, he would finish the day with three hits and four RBIs. After the Pirates took a 2-0 lead on a wild pitch in the third and an RBI single from Mackowiak in the sixth, Millar doubled home Lowell with no one out in the seventh.
During the 2001 season, Millar would hit .314 and have the first 20-homer season of his career. The only home run against Pittsburgh in his career turned out to be the game-winner and came on this day two decades ago.