Miami Marlins Take Opener 2-1, Remind Us Why We Love Baseball


Koehler Solid, Dietrich Stellar In Matchup Built For Baseball Fans

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As a baseball fan, you have certain expectations when you pony up the dough to actually go out to the ballpark and take in a game. The ironic but beautiful part about this game is that many of those high points get overlooked by the more casual observer, those that complain that the game is too slow, too low scoring.

Those that spent the night watching highlights of the NBA Finals, or perhaps more reasonably Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, might have seen a ” MIA 2 NYY 1″ scroll by on the ticker and roll their eyes at the lack of excitement in America’s pastime.

Of course, if you’re reading this, you know how tragically wrong they are. And Monday night’s 2-1 victory by the Miami Marlins over the visiting New York Yankees was pretty much a textbook argument in why.

So let’s get back to those fan expectations.

You look for home runs. Despite the low score, this game had two of them. If the score is going to be low, you trust it is because of quality pitching and highlight reel defense. This game had that in spades.  You look for drama, for excitement, for examples of awe-inspiring physical talent.  And you also look for great story lines, for something exceptional memorable- a great matchup, a slice of history, some compelling subplot.

Baseball, more than any other sport, allows these to unfold.  And this game, and this series, is full of such stories.

We could break out the standard cliche- mostly because it allows us to remember this glorious moment – of the massive payroll gap between the two squads. Of course, that dynamic has taken a bit of a hit since the signing of Giancarlo Stanton to the “forever deal” that made him the highest paid athlete in North American sports history. But while on the subject of mega-deals, we have to turn our attention to the man who used to hold that title: Alex Rodriguez.

During these four games between the Fish and the Yanks, fans who turn out or tune in will get to see glimpses of a sure-fire first ballot Fall of Famer chasing down membership in the elusive 3,000 hit club. Fans will also very likely see a player with even better career numbers actually record his 3,000th hit- and that same player will only be entering Cooperstown if he pays the price of admission.

Just one game in, the dynamic of watching two all-time greats in Ichiro Suzuki and Alex Rodriguez play against each other is fantastic. Rodriguez will get to 3,000- this week, if not this series. Suzuki will almost certainly be waiting until next season to do so. Yet it is entirely possible you’ll see Ichiro get more applause for hit 2,885 than Rodriguez might receive for 3000.

We won’t know until the situation presents itself.  The Japanese icon did reel off two hits last night, delighting fans of teams.

So you have the former premier power hitter in Rodriguez, and the reigning masher in Stanton. You have Hall of Fame talent chasing records, and you have your David and Goliath franchises. In a Monday-only story, you had an enraptured Japan press corps covering a matchup between their arguably two greatest exports in Tanaka and Suzuki.

And then you remember that for all his recently unearthed faults, Alex Rodriguez is also a local boy from Miami that has never lost touch with the surrounding community.

He has given generously over the years to the UM baseball program, and other local charities. According to this report, there doesn’t seem to be a local baseball or youth program he didn’t give free tickets and/or scholarships to in advance of Monday’s game. I had originally planned to write a more scathing article going into this series, pitting the ideal that is Ichiro against the artificially altered power of A-Rod. But seeing him dole out the autographs during the pregame, and the ovation he got in his pinch hit appearance in the ninth, I came to realization. Miami might not just be the only other city where Rodriguez will draw applause for chasing the milestone; there’s a chance the applause will actually be louder there.

As for the game, fans were treated to a surprising pitcher’s duel.  That Masahiro Tanaka turned out a quality outing likely isn’t surprising; what should surprise is that Tom Koehler was substantially better.  Aside from the fact that every at bat against Mark Texiera brought to mind every “Rookie of the Year” at bat between Henry Rowengartner and Heddo, Koehler looked dominant against the rest of the Bronx Bombers; holding the Yankees to just three hits and one run across seven innings would be impressive by Jose Fernandez standards, let alone Koehler’s.

But the lion’s share of the credit for Miami’s victory must go to recent callup and injury fill-in Derek Dietrich. With just over two innings more experience at third-base at the MLB level than you have, Dietrich found himself taking the place of Martin Prado at the hot corner.  He responded with a 2 for 3 effort, scoring both Marlin runs. Knocked in on a Adeiny Hechavarria single after his scorching double in the second, Dietrich would do all the work himself in the 7th when he crushed a Tanaka offering just inside the right field line for his first home run in over a year.  Miami led 2-1, capturing momentum in what had been a see-saw battle to that point.

The Marlins actually peppered Tanaka for nine hits, and left plenty of runners in scoring position throughout the game. That trend would continue in an eighth inning that would actually see Miami load the bases with nobody out against reliever Jose Ramirez before failing to knock a single run in against better reliever Sergio Santos. Blowing that golden of an opportunity certainly hurt, especially after Marlins’ flame thrower Carter Capps fired up the crowd by striking out the side with a series of 100mph fastballs in the top of the frame. 

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But it did allow for a dramatic ninth, and a matchup between closer A.J. Ramos and the heart of the Yankees batting order. Starting off with a walk of Brian McCann, Ramos would rally by striking out Texiera and ex-Marlin Garret Jones. Stephen Drew was due up next…except that former Marlins and current Yankees manager Joe Girardi (another story line) decided to make things interesting, and swapped out Drew for the hometown legend.

To thunderous applause, Alex Rodriguez stepped into the batter’s box- in one of those moments where the baseball fan clashed with the Marlin fan. But A.J. was able to stare down the storybook moment, and retire Rodriquez on a fly out to Stanton to send the crowd home happy. Well, at least some of them- there are those pesky New York transplants to consider.

So in the end, lover’s of the game got a bit of everything. A smattering of power, some stellar glovework, solid pitching- and the chance to see two all-time greats play the game.  Watching Ichiro alone play is a treat every sports fan in Miami should treat themselves to at some point this year- health permitting, you have 49 more chances to do so.

But A-Rod was the draw Monday. Watching him come to plate, it recalled to mind my father dragging me out to the ballpark exactly twice during the ’98 and ’99 seasons- when the Marlins played the Cardinals and the Cubs. A purely football fan, my father was enough of a sports fan to make sure I saw Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa play.  I know I wasn’t alone then, and I’m sure there were thousands of kids in attendance last night in a similar spot.

A great game last night.  And in the grandest sense of the word, just a great Game.

Follow Marlin Maniac on Twitter @MarlinManiac for all your Miami Marlins news, opinion and analysis!

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