Throughout their 30 years as a franchise, the Florida/Miami Marlins have played in just two Game 7s. The first came in the 1997 World Series and on this day 25 years ago.
The Cleveland Indians had won 4-1 the night prior to force the decisive game on Oct. 26, 1997. The Florida Marlins were in just their fifth season as a franchise and led by traveled first-year manager Jim Leyland. In 1991 and 1992, Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates to within a win of the World Series, but fell to the Atlanta Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series each time.
After losing to the Braves in six games two years prior, Cleveland and manager Mike Hargrove were looking to win the World Series for the first time since 1948.
For most of the night, it looked like that would be the case for the Indians. As fate would have it, heartbreak was again in the cards for the good people of Cleveland. After Florida rallied to tie the game in the ninth, Edgar Rentería’s walk-off single in the 11th lifted the Marlins to a 3-2 win and their first world championship.
Making the start for the Marlins was lefty and former All-Star Al Leiter. Taking the mound for the Indians was 21-year-old Jaret Wright.
For the postseason, Wright was 3-0 and the winning pitcher in a 10-3 victory in Game 4 back in Cleveland. In four games that postseason, Leiter had struggled. He had lasted less than five innings in Florida’s 14-11 win in Game 3.
Leiter would have a solid night for the Marlins, allowing just two runs on four hits and four walks while striking out seven in six innings of work. Wright would be even better.
The Cleveland offense came in the third inning and with two outs. After Omar Vizquel popped out with two runners in scoring position in the top of the third inning, Tony Fernandez singled them home to give the Indians an early 2-0 lead.
For six innings, a double from Rentería had served as the only hit for Florida against Wright. On the first pitch of the bottom of the seventh, that all changed.
For the series, Bobby Bonilla was just 4-for-26 and was 0-for-2 on the night. Those struggles subsided as Bonilla’s placed the first pitch from Wright in the seventh well into the right field stands.
It was now a 2-1 game.
Wright bounced back by striking out Charles Johnson, but after a four-pitch walk to Craig Counsell, his night was over. It was now a battle of the bullpens with the Indians holding a one-run lead.
For Florida, Dennis Cook and Antonio Alfonseca worked 1-2-3 seventh and eighth innings. For Cleveland, Paul Assenmacher, Michael Jackson and Brian Anderson retired the first five batters they faced. As the contest shifted to the ninth, the Indians were on the verge of adding an insurance run.
Alfonseca began the ninth with a walk of Matt Williams before Sandy Alomar grounded out. The Marlins turned to lefty Felix Heredia, who threw just one pitch. That pitch was a single from Jim Thome that put runners on the corners. With the Indians on the verge of blowing the game open, Florida called upon closer Robb Nen.
Nen had been far from sharp in the World Series, but induced a Marquis Grissom ground ball to third base on his fourth pitch. Bonilla came home to get Williams at the plate. Nen then got Giles to fly out to prevent any damage.
Florida was down to its last three outs as the Indians turned to closer José Mesa with a 2-1 lead. During the regular season, Mesa posted a 2.40 ERA, but like Nen, he had struggled in the World Series.
Moises Alou had been the hottest bat for the Marlins in the series, but was 0-for-3 for the night as he stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the ninth. Alou flared a single to left to start the Florida rally.
Bonilla worked an eight-pitch at-bat before striking out. Down in the count 1-2, Johnson then lined a single of his own to right, sending Alou to third.
Up came Counsell.
On a 1-1 pitch, Counsell lined a breaking ball to right field. Manny Ramirez made the catch just shy of the warning track, but Alou was able to tag up and score.
Game 7 of the World Series was tied.
The Marlins needed a 9th inning rally to stay alive in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Álex Arias and Charles Johnson walk us through it pic.twitter.com/buW5IYjC6R— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) May 12, 2020
Nen allowed a one-out single to Fernandez in the top of the 10th but struck out the side. In the bottom of the inning, the Marlins threatened to win the game.
Rentería and Gary Sheffield came up with back-to-back one-out singles, but John Cangelosi struck out on Mesa’s final pitch of the night. Charles Nagy came on and got Alou to fly out to end the inning.
For Florida, the 11th belonged to Jay Powell. Powell opened the frame with a walk to Williams, but Alomar’s bunt back to the mound resulted in a fielder’s choice at second. Three pitches later, Thome rolled into an inning-ending double play.
Nagy remained on the hill for Cleveland in the 11th. Bonilla started the frame with a single before Gregg Zaun, who entered the game for Johnson, popped out on a bunt attempt. Counsell then rolled one to second base, but the player who drove in the Indians’ two runs committed a critical error.
Fernandez’s misplay allowed Bonilla to get to third. An intentional walk to Jim Eisenreich ultimately loaded the bases with one out.
Needing only a deep fly ball to end the contest, Devon White grounded one to second base. Fernandez came home for the force and the Indians were one out from escaping.
Already 2-for-4 on the night, Renteria stepped to the plate. The Florida shortstop had come up with big hit after big hit throughout the season and the postseason. The first pitch to Renteria was a strike. The second ended the series and the 1997 season.
Reaching for an outside pitch, Renteria was able to line one off Nagy’s glove and up the middle. A leaping Counsell scored the winning run. The Florida Marlins were world champions for the first time in franchise history.
For Cleveland, the drought extended to 49 years and remains to this day. The Indians were again one win away from a championship against the Chicago Cubs in the 2016 World Series, but blew a 3-1 series lead before falling in 10 innings in Game 7.
Following the first infamous “fire sale,” the Marlins’ roster in 1998 looked nothing like the one that claimed the first title in franchise history. Florida, however, would win another World Series in 2003 under manager Jack McKeon. Since then, the now-Miami Marlins have made just one other postseason appearance—a National League Division Series exit in 2020.