The Philadelphia Phillies and Florida Marlins started their seasons in very different fashions, with the defending champs struggling to prevent runs and the feisty fish jumping out of the gate to an 11-1 record. Prior to Friday, the Marlins were coming off of six straight interesting games, sweeping the Nationals on three consecutive come from behind wins in the ninth inning or later before dropping three in a row to the Pirates. Against one of their divisional rivals this weekend, the Marlins were about to get a little taste of their own late inning magic. The series opener between the Phillies and Marlins last Friday, a battle of both team’s early aces, spotlights the second in our game of the week feature. Observe the game graph:
In summation, the Marlins were cruising towards a relatively easy victory until they apparently boarded the log floom ride in the final frame and plummeted into a defeat.
The action started in the first inning when the Marlins plated three runs off of Brett Myers. After Josh Johnson retired the top of the Phillies order quite easily, Emilio Bonifacio received the first of Myers’ six free passes. His time on the basepaths would be short-lived, though, as he was quickly erased on a pickoff. John Baker singled to left but Hanley Ramirez was caught looking, leaving Myers one out away from escaping the inning unharmed. Ross Gload followed with a single, advancing Baker to third, before Dan Uggla stepped in and launched a three-run homer. Cameron Maybin whiffed to end the inning but the proverbial damage had been done.
Myers, one of the worst first-inning pitchers in baseball, settled down after that and tossed five scoreless innings before clocking out. Unfortunately, Myers’ efforts were exceeded by Johnson, who scattered three hits and two walks over seven scoreless frames while fanning eight batters. At the time of his departure, the Marlins still led 3-0 and had increased their win expectancy to 94%.
Clay Condrey relieved Myers and Leo Nunez took over for Johnson. Both pitched well enough to keep the score 3-0 entering the top of the ninth inning. The Phillies were known for comeback wins over the last two seasons but had struggled a bit with timely hitting through the first three weeks of the current season. Matt Lindstrom toed the rubber looking to end a three-game losing streak and improve his team to 12-4.
Ryan Howard grounded out to start the inning before Jayson Werth doubled to left. The Phillies now had a 4.2% chance of winning the game. Raul Ibanez walked, putting runners on first and second and increasing the Phillies’ win expectancy to 8.5%. Phillies folk hero Matt Stairs pinch-hit for Pedro Feliz and promptly delivered an RBI single to right, plating Werth and advancing Ibanez to third. With the Phillies now at a win expectancy of 18%, Miguel Cairo supplanted Stairs on the bases. Lou Marson then drew a walk, loading the bases and bringing the Phillies to a 28.3% shot at the game.
Lindstrom then fanned Eric Bruntlett in a very clutch situation, leaving the Marlins one out away from victory. Bases loaded, two outs, 3-1 Marlins… and Lindstrom walks Jimmy Rollins, bringing the Phillies within one run, keeping the bases loaded. Shane Victorino, playoff hero throughout their World Series run last year, then uncorked a grand slam giving the Phillies a 6-3 lead and earning himself 0.723 points of WPA in the process. If that weren’t enough, Chase Utley followed with a solo home run. Lindstrom left the game having surrendered seven runs in the top of the ninth inning.
Renyel Pinto entered and after giving up a double to Ryan Howard and walk to Jayson Werth, he struck out Raul Ibanez to end the abysmal ninth. Amidst a double and a walk in the home half of the ninth, Ryan Madson struck out the side, putting an end on quite the unlikely series of late-inning events. The Marlins scored three in the bottom of the first and the Phillies scored seven in the top of the ninth. In between, no scoring occurred whatsoever. The Phillies went onto repeat their late-inning heroics the next night, coming back from a 4-3 deficit in the top of the ninth to a 6-4 win in extra innings.
They swept the fish with a 13-2 win yesterday, leaving the Marlins with a 6-game losing streak and a very slim lead in the division. Things looked mighty different a week ago but I chose this as the game of the week to highlight how quickly things can change in the game of baseball, and how a team that swept a series on late-inning comebacks could find themselves on the losing end of similar events very soon after.