Close games were the norm for the Florida Marlins early on during the 2002 season. Eighteen of their first 25 games that season were decided by two runs or less.
That was the case on this day 20 years, but did not look like it would be. In a thriller that sent fans home happy, the Marlins rallied from six runs down in the seventh inning to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in walk-off fashion, 7-6.
Florida was on the short end of a 6-0 score as the seventh-inning stretch arrived at Pro Player Stadium on April 16, 2002. To that point, the Marlins had just two hits. The bats however, woke up.
With a six-run lead, Philadelphia starter Brandon Duckworth faced just one hitter in the bottom of the seventh. Despite being ahead in the count 1-2, Duckworth allowed the first Marlins run of the night on a solo home run from Mike Lowell.
Enter José Santiago.
Santiago struck out Derrek Lee to start his night before allowing a single to Álex González. Catcher Mike Redmond grounded into a fielder’s choice for the second out of the inning, but the Marlins wouldn’t go quietly. An Eric Owens single was followed by a three-run home run from Andy Fox and just like that, Florida was within two runs.
After Vic Darensbourg faced the minimum in the Philadelphia eighth, the Marlins closed to within one in the bottom half of the inning. A pair of singles from Tim Raines and Mike Lowell followed by a wild pitch put two runners in scoring position, but groundouts by Lee – scoring a run – and Gonzalez ended the frame.
Gary Knotts worked a 1-2-3 ninth for Florida. With the score now 6-5, the Marlins came to bat against Philadelphia closer José Mesa in the bottom of the ninth.
Redmond got the Marlins started by singling on the eighth pitch of his at-bat. After a sacrifice bunt by Owens and a strikeout by Fox, Florida was down to its last out with pinch runner Marty Malloy on second.
Unafraid of the big moment, Kevin Millar had been 0-for-4, but drew the Marlins even with a double to deep left. Now tied 6-6, Preston Wilson worked the count full before lining a single to left to score Millar and complete the improbable walk-off comeback.
The Phillies took the early lead with two runs in the second inning and another in the third. An RBI double by Scott Rolen highlighted a two-run fifth inning. Philadelphia’s final run came in the sixth on an RBI single from Jimmy Rollins.
Rollins and Rolen each had two of the seven hits for the Phillies. Lowell, González and Redmond each had two hits for the Marlins. Florida finished with 11 hits as a team. Knotts picked up the win for Florida.
At the time, the six-run comeback tied the largest in franchise history for the Marlins. It happened on this day two decades ago.