The Miami Marlins avoided the sweep, and their group of up-and-coming rookie hitters played a key role.
Lewin Diaz’s walk-off, two-run home run in the 10th inning to seal the 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday is the one that will be remembered the most and understandably so.
The rookie first baseman, with a full-count, sent a slider on the lower-inside corner of the strike zone a projected 390 feet to right-center field. It was the 24-year-old’s fifth home run of the year, third since being called up for the final time on Sept. 8 and first career walk-off in the big leagues. It was the Marlins’ third walk-off home run this season, joining Garrett Cooper (May 22 against the New York Mets) and Jesus Aguilar (July 7 against the Los Angeles Dodgers).
“I came in very relaxed,” Diaz said, “looking for my pitch. That’s what I was trying to do, move the runner and get a long hit.”
But there were other moments throughout the game that had to take place beforehand to get there.
Like Bryan De La Cruz’s two-out, game-tying RBI single in the ninth inning after Pittsburgh’s Hoy Park hit a two-run home run off Dylan Floro in the top of the ninth to force extra innings.
And Jesus Sanchez’s sacrifice fly in the fifth inning that gave the Marlins a 3-1 cushion after Joe Panik opened Miami’s scoring an inning earlier with a two-run double.
All told, the trio of Diaz, Sanchez and De La Cruz — all former top prospects who the Marlins hope will have long-term roles with the club moving forward — helped the Marlins avoid a three-game sweep after dropping the first two games of the series on Friday and Saturday. Miami is 63-86. Pittsburgh is 56-93.
And beyond just Sunday, the three are starting to show more consistency down the stretch.
Diaz has hits in seven of his last nine games, including four multi-hit games. Six of his 11 hits since his latest call up have gone for extra bases, including three home runs.
“I’m very proud of my power,” Diaz said. “I continue to work on my power, working in the gym and keeping my hands fast. Getting home runs, extra bases, RBI is part of my game. I truly know that’s going to keep me in the game and feed me for many years.”
De La Cruz has 51 hits through his first 45 MLB games — tied with Harold Ramirez for the third-most in Marlins history through a player’s first 45 games (and trailing Dan Uggla’s 56 and Logan Morrison’s 54) — to go along with a .329 batting average, seven doubles, one triple, five home runs, 18 RBI and 14 runs scored.
And Sanchez has safely reached base in 11 of his last 15 games, hitting .257 (15 for 58) with six home runs, 15 RBI and 11 runs scored in that span.
“I look at them all individually,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “The younger guys playing together, you always get good energy. I guess from the standpoint of just competition — healthy competition with all those guys is not a bad thing either. I’m not sure if they’re feeding off each other, but definitely I’m sure they enjoy playing [together]. When you’ve got all basically rookies out there, it’s a pretty good feeling.”
Sandy Alcantara’s start
They also backed another strong performance from ace Sandy Alcantara.
Alcantara pitched into the seventh inning and held the Pirates to two runs (one earned) on six hits and a walk while striking out four.
The 26-year-old righty was taken out after allowing three consecutive baserunners to start the seventh inning on a Cole Tucker single, Anthony Alford RBI triple and Park walk. Pittsburgh scored its first run on a pair of Alcantara fielding errors in the second inning.
“I think I did good today,” Alcantara said. “I was battling inning by inning, pitch by pitch. I felt great about today.”
It was Alcantara’s 22nd quality start, defined as giving up no more than three earned runs while pitching at least six innings, in 31 starts this season. His ERA dropped to 3.05 over 194 2/3 innings.
“Sandy’s stuff’s always good,” Mattingly said. “He was good today. I didn’t see him as sharp as he can be, but obviously Sandy’s always good. He got himself in a little bit of trouble defensively in the second, kind of hurt himself a little bit but from there bears down in different situations.”
Anthony Bender took over with runners on first and third and kept the one-run lead intact by getting Yoshi Tsutsugo to fly out to shallow center and Ke’Bryan Hayes to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Since giving up a career-worst four runs on Aug. 21 against the Cincinnati Reds, Bender has thrown 10 1/3 scoreless innings over 10 relief appearances while also stranding all seven runners he has inherited.
“We’ve put him in tougher and tougher spots as the year’s went on,” Mattingly said. “He’s seemed to slow down a little bit. Early on, it was like his breathing was pretty fast and he was emotional over the top every time out there. He’s settled down some, probably got more comfortable being here.”
Richard Bleier kept Pittsburgh scoreless in the eighth before Park’s home run against Floro before one final rally. It was just the second home run Floro had given up this year.