'We don’t need a pinch-runner': De La Cruz calls game with late HR

DH's ninth-inning blast comes after Luzardo's first quality start of the season

April 20th, 2024

CHICAGO -- did not necessarily agree with the Marlins’ plan for him in the ninth inning of Game 1 of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cubs. So the 27-year-old took matters into his own hands.

“I’m not going to say he called it, but he kind of called it,” said manager Skip Schumaker of De La Cruz’ go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth that propelled the Marlins to a 3-2 win at Wrigley Field.

Miami trailed Chicago 2-1 in the ninth Saturday afternoon and was up against Cubs closer Adbert Alzolay. Before De La Cruz’s plate appearance, Marlins bench coach Luis Urueta laid out the plan.

“We were going to pinch run for him, and he said we don’t need a pinch runner,” Schumaker said.

Said De La Cruz via interpreter Will Nadal: “I told them, ‘What do you mean a pinch runner? I'm going to get a homer here, and you're not going to need to do that.’”

After a Luis Arraez single, Alzolay fell behind De La Cruz 2-0, throwing a sinker and slider down and away. He came back with a sinker on the inner half.

“Really, his best pitch is the sinker,” De La Cruz said of Alzolay. “I feel like the best pitch that I can hit is the sinker. So at that point, it’s really 50-50 the way it would go. I think in that instance, the way his sinker went, that was 70-30 for me there, the advantage.”

De La Cruz hit the 94.9 mph Alzolay offering 104.3 mph off the bat and a Statcast-projected 397 feet to left-center field for the go-ahead homer. He stopped to admire the drive for several seconds, then flipped his bat and repeatedly pointed at the Marlins' dugout.

No pinch-runner needed, indeed.

“He’s feeling really good at the plate,” Schumaker said. “He had good at-bats all game long.”

De La Cruz walked in the first inning, and in the fifth came just shy of hitting a go-ahead grand slam off Javier Assad. He instead settled for a 345-foot sac fly to the left-field wall to cut the Marlins’ deficit to 2-1.

With the homer, De La Cruz became the first Marlin to tally at least one extra-base hit and one RBI in seven straight games since Jorge Cantú (Sept. 9-19, 2008). He’s recorded a hit in 18 of the Marlins’ 21 games this season and has a team-leading 25 knocks.

“I’m just feeling really good at the plate right now, thankfully,” De La Cruz said. “Things are going well, thanks to God. It’s something I’m preparing for. … I think it’s the consistency that I’ve developed. It’s that routine that I keep going every time. I think that’s what’s getting me the results right now.”

De La Cruz’s big swing followed Jesús Luzardo’s first quality start this season. The lefty allowed three hits and two runs in six innings, walking three with six strikeouts.

The Cubs’ only damage off Luzardo came in the third, when he threw 35 of his 104 pitches and four of Chicago’s first five hitters reached. That stretch included a two-run triple by Patrick Wisdom, but Luzardo did not allow further damage.

In his first four starts, opponents hit Luzardo much harder the second time through the batting order (.419/.486/.968, 36 plate appearances) compared to the first time (.100/.222/.133, 36 PAs). The Cubs’ rally in the third came on their second time through.

Luzardo credited a conversation with pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre after the third to help get back on the track and finish the afternoon strong.

“Just got to get in the zone and keep attacking,” Luzardo said of that conversation. “And I feel like my mentality kind of changed. Just trust the stuff and let them hit it.”

Luzardo faced the minimum over his final three innings. Dansby Swanson reached on an error in the sixth, but he was caught trying to steal.

Saturday afternoon was a continuation of an impressive start to De La Cruz’s season, while the Marlins hope Luzardo's outing proves to be something he builds off.

“I feel like I had two not-so-bad [starts] early, and then two really bad ones after that,” Luzardo said. “This one just gets my feet back under me. Longest outing of the year for me and a stepping stone for me moving forward.”

Said Schumaker: “We know he’s a dude, and he’s acting like the dude. I don’t know what it was the last couple of starts, but that’s more of the ace that we’re used to.”