The Miami Marlins’ 30th home opener Thursday night was the eighth here for shortstop Miguel Rojas, the club’s de facto captain and longest tenured player.
“There should be impatience now [to win now],” he said before the 4-3 hang-on-and-win over the Philadelphia Phillies, outside the batting cage, red, white and blue Opening Day bunting on the video screens. “We can’t be patient any more.”
A bit of a little watershed, that. A step forward. A step toward an imperative to emerge from this gradual, amorphous rebuild and get to what’s next.
Marlins players see a message above the exit every time they leave the clubhouse for the field. It reads:
‘Exceed Expectations. ALWAYS’
Pronto, por favor?
Because, you know what? Patience is overrated. Maybe pressure on yourself might work.
This is manager Don Mattingly’s seventh season here, and Donnie Baseball has spent at least the past three acknowledging raised expectations and espousing time-is-now rhetoric, but with little to show.
Asked if he agreed with Rojas, ”I think so,” Mattingly said.
This was different. This was the man in charge growing the stakes and shrinking the timetable. The manager was raising the heat on his team — and on himself, as the post-Derek Jeter era begins in search, still, of that elusive promised land called sustained winning.
“It’s got to the point it’s not about wondering what we did five years ago. It’s time to go now,” Mattingly said. “We’ve got a good club. I think our guys believe it. I think it’s gonna be a good year. But we have to do our part [and prove it for the fans]. Play well. Win. Get ourselves in a pennant race.”
This, in the context of coming home following a disappointing 1-4 start on the road due mainly to quiet bats, an early underline of our belief Miami did not do enough (read: spend enough) in the offseason to beef up run production.
This after last year’s dismal falloff after an apparent breakthrough in asterisk-shortened pandemic 2020.
This, with Miami seen as improved but still pegged for only fourth place in the tough, tough NL East.
And this with a fan base whose impatience may have been somewhat on display Thursday night in a home-opening crowd announced as 31,184, pretty full but still noticeably below capacity.
All of it gave Thursday’s home opener a tinge of must-win feel, preposterous as that sounds for Game 6 of 162.
But, with ace Sandy Alcantara on the mound? With the first full-capacity crowd allowed at Still Marlins Park To Me since 2019? With the rough start and the sudden bloom of “time for impatience”?
Gotta win this, right?
The Marlins win over the NL East-rival Phillies to start a seven-game homestand saw the Phils open with two straight hits and a fast 1-0 lead, after which the Fish went down 1-2-3 with three strikeouts.
“After the first inning I was like, ‘Oh my God!’,” admitted Alcantara.
“Then Sandy settled down,” said Mattingly.
“Guy got the big contract,” kidded Garrett Cooper, who hit a home run. “That’s what an ace does.”
Alcantara was not his best but showed the ace the Marlins need him to be, striking out five in 6 1/3 innings before exiting with a 4-1 lead to vigorous applause. And lo and behold he got run support as Miami made that score with the most of a modest six hits — Cooper’s homer (his first as a new father), Joey Wendle’s two-run double and Jesus Sanchez’s run-scoring single fashioning that lead.
A scare, then. Phils were within 4-3 on Bryce Harper’s two-run double in the seventh off reliever Steven Okert. But Anthony Bass replaced Okert and did better. So did third reliever Cole Sulser and so did fourth out of the pen Anthony Bender, trying to nail down the closer job and coaxing a huge ninth-inning double play.
Maybe give the crowd a save, too. It was shy of a sellout but sounded like one.
“Whoo! I love it,” said Alcantara.
“Pretty electric,” described Cooper. “I don’t think I could hear myself think with two outs [in the ninth].”
“My first game here, it was awesome,” said Wendle, one of the big offseason adds.
Opening Day or a home opener always are special no matter what.
Reliever Richard Bleier expressed that before the game. He turned 35 Saturday. Paid long dues to get here. Local kid, from South Plantation High. He was one of the five players greeting fans before the game.
His wife and 2-year-old girl were in the stands.
“I want to go see Daddy work!” exclaimed the toddler.
Appreciation is her Daddy’s motivation.
“Every single day. Be it good day or bad day,” he says. “I remember going to Marlins games, trying to get an autograph. Even when I’m on the mound, I’ll look around…”
From the big-league mound he spent lots of years reckoning he’d never reach. But did.
In the end it was just one regular season win Thursday but one that somehow felt bigger than that.
Felt something like relief. Or a fresh start?
See, if the Marlins are serious that this team and its fans should be impatient now, should be out of excuses and demanding to make someday now, well, you win your home opener with your ace on the mound.
You just do.
This story was originally published April 14, 2022 10:08 PM.