Acquired in a 2002 trade that sent Cliff Floyd to the Montreal Expos, Juan Encarnacion was quietly a dependable player for the Florida Marlins during his tenure. In three-plus seasons with the team, Encarnacion batted .271 with 46 home runs and 223 RBIs.
On this day 20 years ago, the Dominican Republic native played the role of hero with a walk-off home run in a 5-4 win over the Colorado Rockies. Encarnacion’s blast, however, wasn’t the only significant event of that day. It also came in the Major League Baseball debut of pitcher Dontrelle Willis.
At Pro Player Stadium on May 9, 2003, Willis gave Florida a quality start. In six innings, the lefty allowed just three runs on seven hits while walking two and striking out seven.
As Willis exited following the top of the sixth, he was on the short end of a 3-1 score. Before the sixth inning was over, however, Willis was off the hook for the loss.
After back-to-back two-out singles from Ivan Rodriguez and Derrek Lee, Encarnacion doubled home two down the left-field line off Darren Oliver to knot the score 3-3. The Rockies regained the lead in the top of the eighth on an RBI single by Jose Hernandez, but the Marlins again had an answer. Mike Lowell scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game once again, 4-4.
Braden Looper worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to give the Marlins the chance to walk it off. Facing Justin Speier, Encarnacion did just that.
On a 1-2 pitch, Encarnacion blasted one over the left field wall. The blast capped a three-RBI night for Encarnacion and put Florida in front for the first time since the third inning.
It was a solo blast from Lowell in the bottom of the first that got the scoring started. Oliver and Jay Payton came through with RBI singles in the third inning to put Colorado up 2-1. Preston Wilson, a former Marlin, hit a solo home run in the sixth to push the Rockies’ lead to 3-1.
Over his 11-year career, Encarnacion hit 156 home runs. His lone walk-off came as a member of the Marlins and in Willis’ big-league debut. It came on this day two decades ago.