For the world champion Florida Marlins, late-inning rallies and big hits were common throughout the 1997 season. On this day 25 years ago, that big hit came from an unlikely source.
Against the division rival Atlanta Braves, it was relief pitcher Dennis Cook who ultimately delivered the Marlins. His 12th-inning pinch-hit walk-off single pushed Florida to a 3-2 victory.
After winning 1-0 the night before, the Marlins were looking to pull to within 5 1⁄2 games of the first-place Braves as the teams met on Aug. 1, 1997 at Pro Player Stadium. Three of the game’s first four runs had come in the eighth inning in what would be stellar pitching duel between Florida’s Kevin Brown and Atlanta’s Greg Maddux. The bullpens were equally up to the challenge.
In the ninth, 10th and 11th inning, the teams traded zeroes in a 2-2 contest. After both teams put runners in scoring position in the 11th, Florida reliever Jay Powell worked around a two-out walk in the top of the 12th to give the Marlins a chance to finally win it.
Facing Atlanta reliever Mike Cather, Charles Johnson got the rally started for the Marlins by lining the seventh pitch of the at-bat into the right-centerfield gap for a double. Gregg Zaun pinch ran and Craig Counsell bunted him over, but that left Florida manager Jim Leyland with a dilemma: he was out of position players and the pitcher’s spot was up.
Leyland turned to the left-handed Cook.
Prior to the 1997 season, Cook had not had an at-bat since 1991. To that point in the season however, Cook had been 3-for-3.
On a 1-0 pitch from Cather, Cook lined one in right-center field. His fourth hit of the season ended the contest and gave Florida the victory.
Through seven innings, Gary Sheffield’s solo home run in the fourth had accounted for all the scoring. Back-to-back errors in the top of the eighth allowed Atlanta to a take a 2-1 lead. The Marlins answered in the bottom of the frame with an RBI single from Devon White.
In 15 combined innings, Brown and Maddux combined to allow just three runs on seven hits while striking out a combined 14 batters. Neither factored in the decision. Johnson had two hits for Florida in the victory.
Ultimately, the Braves finished with the best record in baseball at 101-61. Including the National League Championship Series, the Marlins went 12-6 in head-to-head matchups with Atlanta in 1997. The only walk-off win for Florida came courtesy of a pinch hit by a relief pitcher on this day a quarter-century ago.