In 1997, the Miami Marlins were a thing of the future. At that time, we lived and died with each Florida Marlins win and loss. We couldn’t know that it would all pay off later in the season.
This is an article from the “Random Plate Appearance” series. I used random.org to give me a Miami or Florida Marlins year between 1993 and 2018, and a game number, usually from one through 162 (in 1997, it was one through 178) then I find the most impactful at bat of that game and break it down.
This series isn’t so much about a specific plate appearance as is is about painting a picture of what it felt to be a Florida Marlins fan in 1997. Before there were blogs and Twitter and all sorts of instantaneous methods to stay in-the-know from moment-to-moment.
We couldn’t know that the 1997 campaign would yield a World Series Championship for the Florida Marlins. Heck, the team didn’t even win the division. I guess none of that mattered in the end. The only important thing at the close of the season was Edgar Renteria singling off Cleveland Indians pitcher Charles Nagy for a walkoff victory in extra innings. Ironically, I was in Cleveland at the time, driving a semi-tractor trailer. I was listening to that game on the radio, and quietly celebrated by myself afterward.
Today’s Season: 1997
Seasonal Game: 114, August 8th, 1997, Florida Marlins visit Atlanta Braves.
Florida Marlins Seasonal Outlook
The Florida Marlins entered their 114th contest of the season at 66-47, five and a half games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division. Their previous best-ever record, of 80-82 set in 1996, seemed to be in sight for them, and maybe even a playoff berth.
The Atlanta Braves were in the seventh year of a 14 Division Titles in 15 season run. Against conventional wisdom, they only collected a lone World Series title in all that time, defeating the Indians, four games to two in 1995.
At 7:35 P.M. local time, Atlanta starting pitcher Paul Byrd delivered the first pitch of the game to Florida Marlins leadoff hitter, center fielder Devon White. White promptly popped out to right field on the first offering.
Byrd worked a 1-2-3 first inning, and Ryan Klesko singled in Kenny Lofton in the bottom of the inning for a 1-0 lead, off Marlins starter Alex Fernandez. The Marlins challenged in the next half inning, loading the bases, but Byrd struck out Fernandez to end the threat.
Byrd started out in the top of the fourth by getting Darren Daulton to fly out to deep left field. Moises Alou then came in, and doubled to nearly the same spot. Then Charles Johnson came to the plate.
Florida Marlins Plate Appearance of the Day
In Johnson’s first plate appearance, in the top of the second inning, Byrd got him on three pitches, swinging, looking, then swinging to end it. It’s safe to say in hindsight that Johnson learned what he needed to in that first doomed plate appearance.
Johnson connected on Byrd’s first offering on a line shot over the left field wall, finally clearing the fence that the last two batters just missed. The tater locked the score at two apiece.
"It looked like a slider or a cutter. I don’t know what it was. It was a pitch up in the zone. I stayed with it and was able to get it over the wall. – Johnson to David O’Brien in the Sun Sentinel"
The Rest of the Game
Johnson later drew a bases-loaded walk off Braves reliever Mike Bielecki to score Bonilla, then Counsell singled Daulton home for a four-run lead in the seventh.
Blauser jacked a two run shot in the bottom of that inning, off Marlins reliever Dennis Cook, but that’s all that Atlanta could muster in their failed comeback.
"We’re a confident club no matter who we’re playing. We’ve had one of the better records in baseball all year up to this point. We ought to feel pretty good about ourselves. We haven’t done anything yet. But we’ve had a pretty good year up to this point – Florida Marlins manager Jim Leyland, to David O’Brien in the Sun-Sentinel"
Later, Fernandez was asked about the homer:
"He hits that two-run homer, that was huge. He’s been doing it for about six weeks. I think this is what the Florida Marlins were expecting for C.J. – David O’Brien, Sun-Sentinel, quoting Marlins starter Fernandez"
Florida Marlins: The Rest of the Season
After this victory, the Marlins completed the remainder of this campaign with a mark of 24-23, finishing nine games behind the Braves for the NL East title. Still though, it was good enough for the wildcard berth. The Florida Marlins then dispatched the San Francisco Giants in three straight in the NLDS, these same Braves in six games in the NLCS, and the Indians in seven games to claim the title.
Johnson left the Florida Marlins in mid-1998, in the deal that made Mike Piazza a Marlin for five games. He later rejoined the team in 2001 and 2002. In seven seasons for the Fish, Johnson hit .241/.324/.418, with 75 round-trippers and 277 RBI. He also played for the Dodgers, the Baltimore Orioles, the Chicago White Sox, the Colorado Rockies, and the Tampa Bay Rays.
More from Marlins History
- Miami Marlins One-Year Wonder 1B
- Miami Marlins players & the 2023 Hall of Fame
- Former Miami Marlins star is retiring
- Gary Sheffield or Mark Buehrle, will either Marlin make the Hall of Fame?
- Why don’t we see more dynasties? Part 3
Byrd picked up 109 major league victories over a 14-season career, ending in 2009. The Braves, with whom Byrd played in parts of three major league seasons, was one of only seven clubs he appeared for.
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